Five incoming freshmen have signed National Letters of Intent to join the Valparaiso University softball program for the 2018-19 academic year during the early signing period. The Crusaders will welcome Taylor Herschbach, Taylor Knight, Peyton Moeder, Taylor Tonoian and Jaina Westphal to the team next season.
“We have developed our team, and recruited this class, to win the Horizon League championship and continue growing into one of the most consistent and relevant programs in the Midwest,” said Crusader head coach Kate Stake. “While our conference affiliation has now changed as we’ve moved into the Missouri Valley, the latter goal stays the same and the former one only needs some slight tweaking. I think we have brought in a class that fits the character of this team and that helps our program grow with that upward trajectory we’re looking for. While they all hail from different states, they came together a couple weeks ago on their official visit and made fast friends; it was pretty special seeing how well they clicked. That cohesion will greatly help them as they adapt to college and collegiate athletics next year. We are losing a great group of people to graduation at the end of this year, but I am confident we have found the next great group to bring in on their heels.”
A middle infielder from Lockport, Ill., Herschbach has earned Second Team All-Area honors for Lockport Township H.S. She batted better than .450 last year in helping to lead the Porters to a sectional final berth. Herschbach plays her travel softball for the Bulls/Sox Academy.
“Taylor is the type of player who catches your eye the minute you walk up to the field; she’s vocal, energetic, and covered in dirt,” said Stake. “She plays the game hard and clearly loves to compete. Taylor is a versatile left-handed batter who also brings with her the ability to play several different positions for us on the field. I think the way she plays the game will have her fitting in very well with our team. I’m excited to get to work on developing her into a strong asset next year.”
Knight is a right-handed pitcher from Omaha, Neb. who has helped lead Elkhorn South H.S. to four state championship appearances. Knight pitched the title game in 2016 as the Storm captured their first softball state title. A two-time First Team All-State honoree, she has tallied 42 wins in her high school career and holds her school’s single-season ERA record (1.26). Knight previously played travel ball for the Sizzle Gold, which placed 13th at ASA 16 Gold Nationals and won the Nebraska ASA 16U “A” state title, and is now a member of the Locos AU program.
“Taylor has proven to be a fierce competitor who gets better as the pressure rises,” said Stake. “She knows how to lead a team from the circle and has learned how to take on a lot of innings in doing so. She’s the type of player who wants the ball in any situation, and that’s the type of leadership we look for in the circle. Taylor will complement our staff well and be a strong addition to the circle in our second year in the Valley. A steady and composed player, I think our team will really enjoy playing behind her next year.”
A left-handed batting outfielder from Shawnee, Kan., Moeder helped Mill Valley H.S. capture a regional championship last season and finish fourth in the state, hitting nearly .450 and getting on base at better than a .500 clip. She has earned First Team All-League honors each of the last three years and was a First Team All-State honoree as a freshman. Moeder plays her travel ball for Select Fastpitch.
“Peyton is a dynamic, five-tool athlete who will play in the outfield for us,” said Stake. “She is the type of player who can make things happen as a table-setter or a middle-of-the-order type hitter and will be a threat for us on the bases. She has a strong softball IQ, which will translate well into our defensive system as well as allow her some freedom in base running. Peyton is hard-nosed on the field and outgoing off of it, and should fit in very well with our current players next year.”
Tonoian comes to Valpo from Saugus, Calif. A catcher/utility player for Saugus H.S., Tonoian hit .400 for the Centurions last season and got on base at a .463 clip. She plays her travel ball for SoCal 3D, where she is currently on their 18u Gold team.
“Taylor has proven herself to be very driven and motivated throughout her recruiting process,” said Stake. “I think that desire will carry over well onto our team and into our battery in particular. Effort earns a lot of points here, and I think it will be the thing that stands out most to her teammates when she arrives. Taylor is a player who I feel has a strong foundation already and a tremendous upside due to those intangibles.”
Westphal is an infielder/outfielder from Waterford, Wis., where she has helped Burlington H.S. to back-to-back regional titles. She is a three-time First Team All-County honoree and has twice claimed All-Conference accolades. Westphal plays her travel ball for the prestigious Beverly Bandits program, hitting nearly .400 last summer. She was a member of the Bandits squad that claimed the 2016 PGF national championship in Huntington Beach, Calif.
“Jaina comes from one of the best travel softball programs in the country and is the rare player who comes into a program having won a National Championship,” said Stake. “I’ve been told she is the consummate teammate and it’s not hard to see why; Jaina is full of energy and passion, for the sport and for her teammates. She’ll fit our culture well in that regard. Possibly the fastest recruit in this class (although she has some strong competition), Jaina’s defensive versatility will allow her to work both in the infield and outfield when she arrives.”