Softball Opens 2014 Campaign In Chicago
CHICAGO – The Drake University softball team opens the 2014 campaign with contests against IUPUI and Central Michigan on the first day of the Rosemont Rumble. The Bulldogs will take on the Jaguars at 1 p.m. on Friday then close the day with a 7 p.m. game against the Chippewas. Drake will again face Central Michigan Saturday morning at 11:30 a.m. then a contest against Western Illinois at 7 p.m. closes the opening weekend tournament. For more information, including a complete tournament schedule, live stats and results visit the tournament central page here.
ABOUT THE OPPONENTS
The Jaguars welcome back seven starters from last season’s squad that went 18-31 and 7-16 in the Summit League. IUPUI, one of three schools the Bulldogs will face this year from the Summit, was picked to finish sixth in the league’s preseason coaches poll.
Central Michigan is the first of six 2013 NCAA tournament qualifiers Drake will take on this season. The Chippewas finished 2013 with a 33-20 overall record and a 15-7 mark in the Mid-American Conference. Central Michigan captured its first MAC tournament title since 2002 and its 33 wins are the most since 2002.
The Leathernecks are the second Summit League opponent for the Bulldogs. Western Illinois, who finished 14-23 one year ago, was tied for fourth in the conference’s preseason coaches poll.
DRAKE PICKED THIRD
The Bulldogs were picked third in the Missouri Valley Conference’s annual preseason poll, the conference office announced in January. Northern Iowa, the defending MVC tournament champion, was unanimously voted number one in 2014 followed by Illinois State with 83 points. Drake tallied 82 points.
PREVIEWING THE BULLDOGS
Head coach Rich Calvert will have an experienced squad in his 12th season leading the Drake University softball program. Calvert, the winningest coach in Drake history, has five seniors and five juniors along with two sophomores and four freshmen on the 2014 roster. The Bulldogs went 29-20 in 2013 with eight games cancelled due to bad weather, but still finished second in the Missouri Valley Conference with a 14-7 mark in conference action.
Four players who earned all-MVC first-team honors last season, Jordan Gronewold (Carlisle, Iowa), Hayley Nybo (Minnetonka, Minn.), Amy Pierce (Olathe, Kan.) and Nicole Randel (Alpine, Calif.) along with second-team honoree Rebekah Schmidt (Cottage Grove, Minn.) return for the Bulldogs.
Gronewold and Schmidt once again give Drake a formidable rotation in the circle. Gronewold had a team-high 17 wins a year ago and also contributed at the plate hitting .299 with four home runs, eight doubles and 22 runs batted in. In her senior season she will try to ascend in several career pitching statistical categories in program history and will also see time in right field when not in the circle. Schmidt tallied 12 wins last season along with a team-low 2.27 earned run average and a team-high 148 strikeouts. She added an MVC-best eight saves along with three home runs and 12 RBI at the plate. Sophomore Mariah McKinnon (Oxford, Iowa), who made 11 appearances in her first season, rounds out the rotation.
Pierce had an outstanding junior campaign hitting .359 and leading the team in runs scored with 49 and stolen bases with 26. The Olathe, Kan., native started every game at shortstop blasting nine home runs with 27 RBI and was named the Howlett Award winner as Drake’s top female athlete of the year. She is just three stolen bases away from the top mark in Drake history and has a shot to end her career number one all-time in hits. Pierce had 60 hits last season and is 66 away from Kris Cox’s school record of 221.
Nybo, who has started every game in her Drake career, returns to third base where along with Pierce, they give the Bulldogs a solid left side of the infield. Nybo has knocked out 19 home runs and driven in 81 runs in her first two years to already be amongst the all-time leaders in Drake history. Freshman Kaitlyn Finneran (Morrison, Ill.) will see time at the hot corner in her first year.
Senior Liz Buck (Overland Park, Kan.) and junior Zeah Peterson (Baxter, Iowa) will share time at first base this spring. Buck had just five errors last year, while Peterson has been the backup catcher the past two seasons.
Junior Laura Brewer (Waukee, Iowa) hit .336 with eight doubles and 15 RBI last year primarily at first base and the designated player position. Brewer will shift to second base in 2014, while sophomore Chelsea Blaylock (Des Moines, Iowa) provides depth up the middle.
Senior Cortney Wood (Alburnett, Iowa) started 43 games at catcher for Drake in her first season after transferring from Indian Hills. Wood hit .272 with three home runs and 19 RBI a year ago and will once guard the plate. Freshman Ashlie Chambers (Ankeny, Iowa), who helped Ankeny capture the 2013 Iowa Class 5A title, will be Drake’s backup catcher and utility infielder.
Randel returns to left field after a standout junior year in which she hit a team-leading .373 with seven home runs and a team-high 41 RBI, which is the third best single season total in program history. Junior Sarah Ryan (Mount Vernon, Iowa) will patrol centerfield for the Bulldogs, while freshmen Maddie Hooyman (Trenton, Mo.) and Megan Sowa (Gurnee, Ill.) will see time at the corner outfield spots.
Calvert has a pair of former Drake standouts on his coaching staff in Nicole Wood and Tina DeAngelo. Wood, who played for the Bulldogs from 2004-05, is in her eighth season as an assistant, while DeAngelo (Zuccolo) is in her first year as a volunteer assistant. DeAngelo was a standout pitcher that helped Drake capture back-to-back MVC titles in 1994 and 1995 to qualify for its first-ever NCAA Tournament. Kasey Griffith, who played at SIU-Edwardsville and Dallas Center Grimes, returns for her second season as a volunteer coach.
The Bulldogs start their 2014 campaign on Feb. 7 at the Rosemont Rumble hosted by Loyola in Chicago, Ill., with a contest against IUPUI. Drake will not play Loyola, which joined the MVC in July, 2013, at this season-opening tournament. Instead the Bulldogs face 2013 NCAA Tournament qualifier Central Michigan twice and close the weekend with a game against Western Illinois.
Drake will travel to four additional tournaments with a trip to Baylor’s Getterman Classic (Feb. 14-16) up next with games against 2013 NCAA Tournament participants, Baylor and UAB, along with Lipscomb, East Carolina and Iowa. After the tournament in Waco, Texas, the Bulldogs head to Tempe, Ariz. for six games, including two contests against Arizona State, who advanced to the 2013 Women’s College World Series. The next weekend the team heads to the Woo Pig Classic, where it opens against host Arkansas, a 2013 NCAA Tournament qualifier. The Bulldogs final regular season tournament will be in Stillwater, Okla., for two games with Oklahoma State and two games with Minnesota.
Drake starts the conference slate with a visit to Illinois State before hosting its home opener against Southern Illinois on March 22. Former MVC-rival Creighton, now a member of the Big East Conference, travels to Des Moines on March 26, then Drake visits Loyola (March 29). The Bulldogs have 15 home games at Ron Buel Field including annual matchups against in-state foes, Iowa State (April 9) and Northern Iowa (April 23). The 2014 MVC tournament will be hosted by Illinois State in Normal, Ill. from May 8-10.
This will be the 39th season of intercollegiate competition for the Drake softball program.
DRAKE ADDS THREE IN 2014 RECRUITING CLASS
The Bulldogs inked Nicole Newman (Madison, Wis.), Kailee Smith (Murrieta, Calif.) and Kelsey Wright (Olathe, Kan.) to National Letters of Intent this past November, 2013.
Newman, a pitcher and first baseman from Madison La Follette High School, went 15-4 with a 0.44 earned run average and 311 strikeouts in the circle for the Lancers her junior season. She earned first team all-state honors and was named the Gatorade Wisconsin Player of the Year and the Wisconsin State Journal/Wisconsin PrepZone.com Area Player of the Year. Newman also plays basketball and earned several honors last season on the hardwood after averaging 18.1 points and 11.6 rebounds per game.
Smith, a versatile player who has logged time at pitcher, first base and in the outfield, is from Murrieta, Calif. A three-year letterwinner for Paloma Valley High School, she earned All Inland Valley honors her junior season after hitting .406 with six home runs and recording a 1.44 ERA in the circle.
Rounding out the class is Wright from Olathe Northwest High School who hit .581 with a .805 slugging percentage last season on her way to being named first-team all-state. A three-year letterwinner in the infield for the Ravens she helped Northwest capture the Kansas 6A state championship her freshman season.
Drake travels to the Getterman Classic hosted by Baylor University as the Bulldogs will have five games in Waco, Texas. Drake opens the tournament with a contest against Lipscomb on Feb. 14 at 12:30 p.m.