The Great Lakes Valley Conference has become a hotbed for big stories in the world of softball the past few weeks. First it was senior pitcher Morgan Foley — sitting at 29-0 — hurling her UIndy Greyhounds to the top ranking in the nation. Then it was Hannah Perryman -- UMSL’s senior star pitcher — becoming DII’s all-time strikeout queen. Now, it is the rise of the upstart Maryville Saints.
Maryville has been somewhat of an afterthought when it comes to GLVC softball since their 2010 jump to Division II from the SLIAC in Division III. They were projected to finish tenth in their own conference this season. Despite showing improvement in each of the past three seasons, the Saints had averaged a mere 16 wins over that same span.
2012 was when Liz Kelly took over a Maryville program that has never seen a postseason at the DII level, not in the GLVC tournament nor the NCAAs. Her vision was to make the Saints — a team that has never won 20 games in their six years as a DII program — a contender. While it took a few years of blending the right recruits and transfers, she has the Saints rolling off their best season in program’s history, their DIII tenure included.
“Our thoughts were to improve the team every year,” Kelly said. “It’s been a four-year process to get where we are today. We have really good team chemistry and good leadership. Our goal is really to just try and compete the best we can every game, every practice and the wins will take care of themselves.”Last season, Kelly guided her Saints to a team best 18 wins under her tenure. They currently sit at 33-7, setting a program high in wins since the team was conceived in 1990 as a DIII program. They are 17-5 in the tough GLVC, tied for third with Truman State and Southern Indiana in a conference that boasts two of the the Top 10 teams in the country in the latest NFCA Coaches Poll.
“Our conference, with UIndy and UMSL, we have a really strong conference with really strong pitching,” Kelly said. “It makes all of the teams in the conference really have to rise up. It’s good for us in terms of trying to compete and get better because we are playing the best in our conference so we are shooting high to start. Perryman is awesome and so is Foley and we are going to see her this Saturday.”
While Kelly knew this season had the potential to be one of her best since taking over, the 15-game improvement with eight games left is beyond even her expectations. A big win streak in March and a victory over rival UMSL (currently No. 8 in the nation) let Kelly knew that she had something special.
“We went on a ten game win streak early,” Kelly said. “But boy, when we beat UMSL that was a big win for us. We’ve had to play them so many times, they’re right down the road, with both of us being in St. Louis. Our team just gets fired up to play them, that was a big turning point.”
The Saints now have big wins over UMSL and Truman State this season, two teams that this program was never able to figure out having never defeated them. While the Saints are still searching for their first ever NFCA national ranking, they received even more promising news on their dream season this past week. Maryville is now ranked sixth in the Midwest Region.
“NCAA rankings came out and we were ranked sixth in the region,” Kelly said. “Maryville has never been ranked in the region, so we take that as a huge honor. It’s hopefully going to provide some motivation going along here, because we still haven’t clinched. Even at 17-5, we haven’t clinched. It’s crazy, there’s just so many good teams.
“It’s not the end all, it’s a nice reward for playing as well as we have playing. We realize to stay in there, we have to continue to play well. We will try to play our best and that’s all I can really ask.”
Starting with a 12-win season her freshman year, senior Alex Flasch has been through it all in her four-year tenure at Maryville. Her patience has paid off as and — much like her Saints — she too is enjoying the best season of her career, batting .387 with 9 home runs and 42 RBI. She embodies what it means to be a Saint.
“She has really stayed the process with the program,” Kelly said. “She is the only four-year senior in the program. Macias was a transfer into the program, as were our other two seniors, so Alex Flasch has really worked with us to keep competing until we could get some recruits in to play with her. She’s just done a great job at the plate, working on her swing all of the time and working on her game all of the time.”Perryman and Foley have stolen the spotlight this season in the GLVC in their season long pursuit of the DII all-time strikeout record (now owned by Perryman) amongst several other records and while both have simply had remarkable seasons. Maryville senior pitcher Wendy Macias, however, is not to be forgotten as she is putting together on of the finest season’s in the circle in Saints history. Her 17 wins have already tied the program’s all-time mark and her 1.77 ERA and 120 strikeouts are also amongst the tops in Maryville lore.
“She’s a big time pitcher,” Kelly said of Macias. “She competes, she just wants to win every game and throw every game she can. We are really fortunate to have her on our team.”
Despite sitting at a program-best record, the road to the postseason is still not an easy one. This weekend they welcome No. 1-ranked UIndy for a Saturday double-header before facing Saint Joseph’s for two on Sunday. The final weekend is full of top GLVC teams as the Saints have consecutive double-headers against Southern Indiana and Bellarmine.
Maryville will certainly be tested down the stretch, however, Kelly is fully aware of what a postseason would mean to the program she has built.
“It would be a huge jump for the program,” Kelly said. “It’s definitely our goal to be a Top 10, Top 20 team yearly, and this would be just the first step to that. It would be huge to do that in four years. The credit goes to the players, they took the dream that we had and made it their own. It’s made it a really fun year.”
How Maryville fares will be one of the more compelling stories as the regular season comes to a close. Can they finish off the dream and bring their program to the next level, or are they still one season away? Whatever the case is, Maryville has made their presence felt in the GLVC and is turning heads in the nation. Kelly couldn’t be prouder.
“It’s a great feeling, it feels really good,” Kelly said. “I’m really, really proud of the team and the way they work together and are for one another. It’s a total team effort. Our bench players are so positive and so important to this team, as well as the players on the field.
“The players are bonding together and are wanting to do it so badly. They have great chemistry. They have really just picked up the vision of the team and said, 'this is what we are going to do', and they’ve worked really hard to do that.”