Valparaiso (0-0, 0-0 MVC)
at Houston Invitational (Houston, Texas)
Feb. 7 - vs. Fordham (0-0, 0-0 Atlantic 10) - 10:30 a.m.; at Houston (0-0, 0-0 AAC) - 6 p.m.
Feb. 8 - vs. Northwestern State (0-0, 0-0 Southland) - 11:30 a.m.; vs. Fordham - 2 p.m.
Feb. 9 - vs. UMass Lowell (0-0, 0-0 America East) - 9 a.m.
Next Up in Valpo Softball: The Valpo softball program opens up the 2020 campaign this weekend with a challenging slate of games at the Houston Invitational. Valpo will face Fordham twice and host Houston, Northwestern State and UMass Lowell once apiece.
Looking Ahead: The second weekend of the regular season sends the Brown and Gold to the Runnin’ Bulldog Tournament, hosted by Gardner-Webb in Boiling Springs, N.C. Valpo will play five games in a three-day stretch Feb. 14-16.
Following Valpo Softball: All five games this weekend will have live stats available via ValpoAthletics.com. The Houston game Friday evening will have a pay video stream as well.
Head Coach Kate Stake: Kate Stake was hired as head coach of the Valparaiso softball program on July 23, 2014 and enters her sixth season as head coach in 2019. Stake, who is 105-147 at Valpo, led the Crusaders to the 2016 Horizon League Championship and a berth in the NCAA Tournament - the third in program history. Stake arrived at Valpo with eight seasons of assistant coaching experience at the Division I level, most recently serving as an assistant at mid-major power Hofstra. She played her collegiate softball at fellow MVC member Illinois State and is a 2005 graduate of ISU.
Series Notes: Three of Valpo’s four opponents this weekend are first-time matchups, as the Brown and Gold has never played Fordham, Houston or Northwestern State. Sunday’s meeting with UMass Lowell will come six years to the day of the only prior meeting between the two teams: a 5-2 Valpo win on Feb. 9, 2014 in Buies Creek, N.C.
Scouting the Opposition: All four of Valpo’s opponents this weekend will provide strong competition. Fordham was 29-26 last season and won the Atlantic 10 Championship for the seventh straight year, advancing to the NCAA Tournament. Houston posted a 39-19 record and went to an NCAA regional final. Northwestern State finished the 2019 campaign with a 30-27 record, while UMass Lowell went 28-20 and earned the America East regular season title.
Valpo Picked Tenth in Preseason Poll: Valpo was tabbed to finish in 10th place in the MVC preseason polling of the conference’s head coaches. Valpo tallied 24 points in the polling, just two points out of ninth, three points out of eighth and seven points out of seventh. Drake and UNI each received four first-place votes, with Drake edging UNI by two points for the top spot, while Southern Illinois and Illinois State each earned one first-place vote.
Looking Back at 2019: Valpo won 16 games a season ago, including a win at ACC opponent North Carolina State, and advanced to the second round of the 2019 MVC Tournament. Peyton Moeder represented the Brown and Gold on the MVC All-Defensive Team, while Jenna Edwards earned a spot on the All-Tournament Team. Jaymee Lawton and Carly Trepanier closed out four-year careers which ended with them holding a combined 12 spots in Valpo’s career record book.
What’s Back and What’s New: Valpo returns 13 letterwinners from last year’s squad - nine position players and four pitchers. Included among the nine returning position players are seven regular starters. The Brown and Gold welcome four newcomers to this year’s team as well: freshmen Lauren Kehlenbrink, Ryan Milkowski and Easton Seib, and sophomore transfer Kate Beckemeyer.
Finally Outdoors: After a winter spent mostly in the cages and indoors, Valpo finally gets to spend an entire weekend outside - a luxury more often enjoyed by its early-season opponents during the winter months. But for the first time since 2014, Valpo will face a team in the opening weekend of the season based further north than it is, as the Brown and Gold takes on UMass Lowell in the tournament finale. The River Hawks were also that 2014 opponent as well.
Pack is Back: It all starts in the circle, and redshirt junior hurler Kelsie Packard will be back in action this season. Packard suffered a season-ending injury partway through the 2019 campaign and learned in September she would receive a medical hardship waiver for last year, retaining two seasons of eligibility. Prior to the injury, Packard posted an 8-7 record and a 3.24 ERA with three shutouts and 88 strikeouts in 84.1 innings of work, as opposing hitters hit just .228 off of her. The 2018 MVC Newcomer of the Year, Packard enters the 2020 campaign just nine strikeouts shy of Valpo’s career top-10 in the category and knocking on the door of a few other categories as well.
Westphal Leads the Offense: Sophomore Jaina Westphal is Valpo’s top returning player on offense from last season. As a rookie, Westphal led the team in both batting average and stolen bases, while ranking third in on-base percentage and slugging percentage. She became just the third Valpo freshman in the last 18 seasons to pace the team in batting average, joining Sara Strickland - who led the team in batting average as a freshman in 2009 en route to setting Valpo career records for hits, runs scored and doubles and being elected to the Valpo Athletics Hall of Fame this year - and Carly Trepanier - who paced the team in batting average as a rookie in 2016 and eventually closed her career among Valpo’s all-time leaders in eight offensive categories.