(Photo: Alli Cline/WCSN)
It is the way of college sports. After a few seasons, players will graduate, they will move on and often they will leave deep holes to repair on a team. Unfortunately for the Arizona State Sun Devils, they will be facing a bit of that this coming season.
Amber Freeman, Bethany Kemp and Haley Steele. Three big names of ASU Softball will be gone come the start of the 2016 season. They were the three home run leaders in 2015, combining for over half of the Sun Devils’ long balls. For a large portion of the season they batted in the heart of the order as well.
Sierra Rodriguez and Elizabeth Caporuscio were two other instrumental pieces to the puzzle that ASU has lost. Rodriguez was last season’s leadoff hitter, runs leader and fell behind to only Freeman in on base percentage. Caporuscio followed Rodriguez in the lineup and batted over .300.
It is clear the Devils will lose a lot on the offensive side of the ball, which may just mean they will have to make it up in other ways. Co-interim head coach Robert Wagner made it clear they’re not going to fill the big voids in the offense, but that doesn’t mean they can’t be successful.
“We’ll have to play a litter short game. We’ll have to rely a little more on speed. We’re not going to be able to sit back and wait for the home run,” he said.
ASU will feature a different outfield with lots of speed. Jennifer Soria will hold her starting spot in center field joined by Abby Spiel and likely Allie Butterfield. All three girls have proven speed and we have seen them in the past as pinch runners. With some plate discipline, they could become very deadly once they reach first base.
The 2016 Sun Devils are very different than they have been in years past, but one staple will remain. The ASU pitching will continue to rise. The team will continue to send out the one-two punch of Breanna Macha and Dale Ryndak, while adding another star in Kelsey Kessler. Kessler is a junior transfer from Kansas who sat out all of last season due to eligibility reasons. She hasn’t pitched competitively in quite some time, but there’s no reason she can’t return to her 2014 form where she struck out 250 batters and posted a 2.47 ERA.
Macha and Ryndak will be a year older with an entire season of experience under their belts. With the addition of Kessler, the sophomores should feel even more comfortable in 2016 knowing they have a number three option with ace abilities.
Sometimes defense is your best offense, and in the Devils’ case, pitching will be their best friend this season. Assuming the pitching tandem does their job, the offense won’t have to rally up lots of runs each game.
That being said, they will still have to step up mightily. Chelsea Gonzalez will be looking to carry over her success from 2015 to this season. The shortstop was the biggest breakthrough player a season ago. She went from an unproven starting shortstop, to the number three hitter in the Sun Devils lineup. In that time she established herself as one of the most consistent hitters on the team. She will have to continue that and be an offensive leader this season.
“We’re very underrated and we have some very talented players.” Kessler said. “Because they are unknown it will be an advantage to us because people won’t really look out for them.”
With unknown comes optimism, and the veteran Sun Devils and coaches seem to believe in their new players. With eight freshmen joining the team, a few are bound to see extensive time on the field. With Kemp graduating, a spot will be open at first base, and Taylor Blair and Fa Leilua are two freshmen who are gunning for the highly sought after position.
With a potential for innings available in the outfield, freshmen Skylar Mccarty has a solid chance to work her way on to the field. The Arizona native had a career .545 batting average in high school and was named to the Count Softball’s Hot 100 for the 2015 signing class.
Co-interim head coach Letty Olivarez said she has a lot of confidence that this new team can make it work.
“The girls that just came in as freshman, they work so hard that they’re all kind of figuring out how we’re piecing everything and meshing everything together.”
A new year will bring new stars for the Sun Devils, and in no time at all we will learn who is ready to step up for the 2016 season.