New opportunities await the Valparaiso University softball team as it opens the 2018 season, as the Crusaders make the move to the Missouri Valley Conference. Fourth-year head coach Kate Stake has an experienced squad at her disposal as Valpo returns 16 letterwinners from last year’s team, which finished in third place in the Horizon League.
The experience for the Crusaders starts in the circle, as Valpo returns a trio of pitchers who accounted for nearly 88% of the team’s innings pitched last season, while adding an NJCAA National Pitcher of the Year as well. The four hurlers provide associate head coach Monica Wright a myriad of options to throw at opposing teams.
Leading the way for the Valpo returnees is senior Kenzie Grossmann, who stood out in her first season as a Crusader in 2017. Grossmann posted 20 victories during her junior campaign, third-most in a single season in Valpo program history, and struck out 120 batters, ninth-most in a single season in program history. During Horizon League play, Grossmann finished with an 11-4 record and 18 appearances and posted a 2.76 ERA.
Fellow senior Ashlyn Montgomery is back for her final season as well, coming off of a junior year where she went 6-6 with a 3.25 ERA in 90.1 innings of work – highlighted by a four-hit effort against a top-10 Alabama squad. Sophomore Emily Richardson comes off a rookie season where she posted a 2.62 ERA in 26.2 innings of work in Horizon League action and held opponents to a .243 batting average.
Joining the returning trio is junior Kelsie Packard, who joins Valpo after being named the NJCAA Division III Pitcher of the Year for Rock Valley College last year. Packard helped lead Rock Valley to its second straight national championship in 2017, going 23-0 with a 1.29 ERA and striking out 209 batters. Packard led the nation in strikeouts and ranked second in both victories and ERA.
Valpo returns a pair of players with experience behind the plate as the Crusaders look to continue to use a two-catcher rotation in 2018.
Senior Jenna Stauffenberg is the most experienced catching returnee, as she enters her final year with 79 career starts at catcher. Stauffenberg split time behind the plate with departed Horizon League Player of the Year Sam Stewart, starting 23 games behind the plate in 2017. She ended last season hitting .253 with 26 RBIs, tying for second on the team in runs driven in. Meanwhile, sophomore Hannah Dybalski hit .222 in part-time action last year and only started twice at catcher, but was the Crusaders’ primary catcher this past fall.
Catcher is one of many spots on the diamond where athletic freshman Brittany Anderson could see action for the Crusaders as well. A two-sport athlete at Valpo, Anderson was a First Team All-State selection at Bishop Noll [Ind.] H.S. as a senior and a four-time All-Area nominee, while also being named a PGF Regional All-American on the travel circuit in 2017 while playing for the Beverly Bandits.
A mix of the old and the new look to man the corner infield positions for Valpo as it opens the 2018 season.
At first base, a pair of seniors return in Jasmine Ramirez and Brenna Boyle. Ramirez saw the majority of action at first last season, starting 44 times and playing near-flawless defense as she committed just one error on the year – posting a .997 fielding percentage.
Boyle registered a .316 on-base percentage in part-time action in 2017 and has starting experience dating back to her freshman year, having started 37 total games at first. Sophomore Taylor Bowman could also see time at first base, while Anderson is an option there as well.
Over at third base, the Crusaders look to a veteran to move to a new position in senior Stephanie Moreno. Moving over from shortstop, Moreno started all 103 games there over her first two seasons at Valpo before a pre-season injury limited her playing time last season. A career .286 hitter, Moreno enters her senior year with 63 career runs scored.
Sophomore Gabby Magnifico could also see playing time at third base after starting exclusively in the outfield in her rookie year. Magnifico tied for third on the team in runs scored as a freshman with 24 and OPSed at an .859 clip in Horizon League play.
Freshman Addi Burke, who comes to Valpo from John Horn [Texas] H.S., where she was District MVP as a senior, and the Vision Fastpitch organization, saw a lot of reps at third base during the fall season and brings another potential lefty bat to the Crusader lineup. Anderson and fellow freshman Ashley Barker – a First Team All-Conference player at Moline [Ill.] H.S. – could also see time at the hot corner.
Consistency was the name of the game in the middle infield for the Crusaders last year, as Carly Trepanier and Jaymee Lawton started every game at second base and shortstop, respectively. Both Trepanier and Lawton are back for their junior seasons in 2018.
Trepanier put together a second consecutive stellar season for Valpo last year, as she was an NFCA Third Team All-Region and Second Team All-Horizon League honoree. She hit .358 with 31 runs scored and 15 stolen bases in 2017, starting 49 of the 51 games in the leadoff spot in the order. Trepanier tallied 62 base hits, second-most in the Horizon League and sixth-most in a single season in program history, and recorded multiple hits in a team-high 18 games.
Lawton provides a power bat at shortstop for the Crusaders. In her first season at Valpo in 2017, Lawton hit .246 with eight doubles and five homers while also walking 21 times. She posted a .569 slugging percentage within Horizon League play, second-best on the team and good for ninth in the league in league-only action.
The Crusaders’ outfield is anchored by the return of fifth-year senior Taylor Lawson in center field.
Lawson suffered a season-ending injury in the ninth game of the 2017 season and was granted a medical hardship waiver, allowing her to come back for a fifth year. One of the top baserunners in program history, Lawson racked up 23 stolen bases – fifth-most in a season in Valpo history – in her last complete season in 2016 while being caught stealing just once. She enters her fifth year third all-time at Valpo with 45 career steals and has also scored 87 career runs – just six shy of Valpo’s career top-10 in that category.
Senior Lanie Callaghan looks to lock down one of the corner outfield positions, coming off of a 2017 campaign in which she tied for second on the team with 26 RBIs. Callaghan racked up 17 of her RBIs in league play while hitting at a .264 clip and OPSing .841.
A number of other Crusaders are in the mix at the corner outfield spots as well, including a trio of sophomores. Morgan Matalin hit .234 with 12 runs scored while earning 30 starts during her rookie season, while Addison Pixley hit .280 in limited action as a freshman. Magnifico – who started 27 times in left field, 17 in center field and four in right field – could continue to see time at the corner outfield spots, and Anderson will be under consideration out there as well.
Valpo is slated to open the 2018 slate this weekend at a tournament hosted by Troy University in Troy, Ala., weather permitting. The Crusaders will face SIUE, which won 41 games a season ago, and Tennessee State twice apiece in addition to one game against the host Trojans. Early season tournaments at Charleston Southern, Grand Canyon and UC Davis will close out the pre-conference slate.
Valpo opens the Missouri Valley Conference schedule – which includes three games apiece against each of the conference’s other nine teams – March 17-18 with a three-game series at Indiana State. The Crusaders, who were picked ninth in the MVC preseason poll, will also play road series at Missouri State (March 24-25), Drake (April 14-15) and Illinois State (May 5-6).
The Crusaders host their first Valley series March 30-31 as they welcome Southern Illinois to the Valpo Softball Complex. UNI (April 7-8), Evansville (April 21-22) and Bradley (April 28-29) will also visit Valpo in its first season as a conference member. Meanwhile, the Crusaders’ three-game set against travel partner Loyola is split into a home doubleheader on April 28 and a single game at the Ramblers on April 24.
Interspersed throughout the Valley schedule are a few non-conference contests as well. Valpo will travel for a single game at IUPUI March 21 and a doubleheader at Central Michigan – MAC regular season champions last season – March 27. Meanwhile, the Crusaders will welcome Fort Wayne to Valpo for a single game on April 11 and Northern Illinois for a doubleheader on May 2.
The Missouri Valley Conference Tournament opens on Thursday, May 10 from Des Moines, Iowa, hosted by Drake. Eight teams qualify for the three-day event, which is a single-elimination bracket. The Valley tournament champion earns the conference’s automatic bid into the 2018 NCAA Tournament.