The DII softball season is upon us. The Minnesota State Mavericks open the season right were they left off, looking to defend their title as the preseason No. 1.
As always, there will be plenty of teams in the mix, all looking for their shot to play in Salem, Va. this May. There are also superstar players aplenty, who seemingly alone can propel their teams to new heights. Let's take a look at some that standout.
Teams to watch:
Obviously, Minnesota State will have all eyes on it, as the Mavericks are the defending national champions. Starting pitchers Coley Ries and Libby Bemis combined to make all 71 starts, with Ries going 41-3 with a 1.05 ERA and 476 strikeouts en route to DII Player of the Year honors. Both are no longer on the roster, with Ries graduated and Bemis transferring closer to home. Ries, however, will be on the coaching staff to work with a new-look rotation.
So while the Mavericks will look somewhat new in the circle, the lineup returns much of its best hitters. Jessica Meidl returns after hitting .450 with 18 doubles and 10 home runs, as does McKenzie Papa, Amber Kral and Carly Esselman who made up the Mavericks top four hitters.
MORE: NFCA Preseason Top 25
Angelo State finished as national runner-ups in 2017 and return a few key pieces from that run. Outfielder Courtney Barnhill filled the stat sheet, leading the team with a .378 batting average to go along with 11 doubles, 15 home runs and 18 stolen bases. Brandy Marlett returns in the circle after winning a team-best 29 games behind a 1.36 ERA and 306 strikeouts. Two-way star Kenedy Urbany is gone, but Morgan Hill shouldn’t have any issues with an expanded starting role. She was phenomenal down the stretch, and tied the program record with six saves.
Humboldt State will likely wind up in the final eight teams. That’s just what the Jacks do. Humboldt State is an near-annual guarantee for the postseason, making it to the final eight three of the last five years. Three big pieces -- Tiffany Hollingsworth, two-way star Kalyn Paque and pitcher Madison Williams -- are graduated, so it will be interesting to see what the Jacks do next. Hanna Holland is back after missing nearly all of last year. She hit .413 in HSU's 2016 national runner-up campaign. They also return leading home run hitter Breonna Bejaran, who hit 14 last season. There is always fire power in Arcata, California; it's how the pitching pans out that will be the question mark.
Despite losing its best hitter, North Georgia returns a lot of young talent. Senior Syndney Sprague is the veteran presence amongst an offense that returns six of its best seven hitters from 2017. Four of them -- Kalyn Anthony, Lexi Duncan, Alishia Frierson, and Shelby Hammontree -- are sophomores. The same holds true in the circle. Now sophomores, Kylee Smith and Amber Johns combined to make 49 starts last year. Smith's freshman year was one of the best in DII, posting a 31-6 record with a 1.34 ERA and 254 strikeouts. Junior Bria Bush is back as well, so this staff is well-experienced. This team is young and should be on the verge of many great seasons together.
Cal State Monterey Bay could be a sneaky team to watch this season. The Otters return one of the most dangerous hitters in the land in Julia Garcia, who won the California Collegiate Athletic Association Triple Crown batting .451 with 15 home runs and 62 RBI. She’s joined by some nice hitting returners in Jayme Stark and Luis Stanley to name a few. Hayley Fein is back in the circle after capturing CCAA Freshman of the Year honors going 29-12 with a 2.01 ERA and 145 strikeouts.
Players to watch
Just because a team isn’t ranked, it doesn’t mean they don’t have players that will make an impact. Here are a few that stand out.