Valparaiso (3-15, 0-0 Horizon)
Tuesday, Mar. 22 (DH) – at Central Michigan (11-12, 0-0 MAC) – 1 p.m. CT – Mt. Pleasant, Mich.
Friday, Mar. 25/Saturday, Mar. 26 (DH) – at Youngstown State (7-10, 0-0 Horizon) – 2 p.m. CT/11 a.m. CT – Youngstown, Ohio
Next Up in Crusader Softball: The Valparaiso University softball team returns to action in the Midwest this week with a slate of five games. The Crusaders will head to Central Michigan for a non-league doubleheader on Tuesday afternoon before opening the Horizon League schedule this weekend with a three-game series at Youngstown State.
Previously: Valpo took last week off from competition after returning to Indiana from its spring break trip. The Crusaders’ journey concluded with UNLV’s Rebel Classic Mar. 11-13, where they posted a 2-3 record.
Following the Crusaders: All five games this week are slated to have live stats, with links to all available at ValpoAthletics.com. Numerous Valpo games are slated for broadcast on ESPN3.com this spring, including all 16 scheduled home games and this weekend’s three-game series at Youngstown State.
Head Coach Kate Stake: Kate Stake was hired as head coach of the Valparaiso softball program on July 23, 2014 and is in her second season as head coach, owning 19 victories. 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.
Series Notes: Central Michigan – The Crusaders and Chippewas have faced off just three times on the diamond in program history, with Valpo holding a 2-1 advantage. The last matchup resulted in the Crusaders’ first NCAA Tournament win ever, as Valpo defeated CMU 7-4 on May 18, 2013 in Ann Arbor, Mich.
Youngstown State – Valpo enjoys a 31-8 advantage in the all-time series with the Penguins. Last season, needing to win to earn a berth into the Horizon League Championship, the Crusaders swept all three games from YSU, taking down the Penguins by final scores of 9-7, 7-5 and 9-5 in Valparaiso. Senior Kaitlyn Ranieri has gone 18-for-34 with 16 runs scored, seven RBIs and 13 walks during her career against the Penguins.
Looking Ahead: Valpo is scheduled to open the home campaign next Tuesday afternoon with a doubleheader against Bowling Green before hosting league newcomer Northern Kentucky next Friday/Saturday, April 1-2.
Scouting the Opposition: Central Michigan – CMU enters Tuesday’s non-league doubleheader with an 11-12 record this year, which included a win over then-#9 Arizona last month. As a team, the Chippewas are hitting .291 with five regulars hitting above .300. Rachael Knapp has tossed over half the innings in the circle for CMU, posting a 6-5 record and a 2.31 ERA.
Youngstown State – The Penguins enter the week with a 7-10 record on the season and are slated to play midweek doubleheaders at Akron and at St. Bonaventure before this weekend’s league-opening series. The explosive YSU offense is averaging better than six runs per game, led by senior Miranda Castiglione, who is hitting .487 with 14 runs scored and 10 RBIs on the year.
Crusaders Picked Fourth in Preseason Poll: Valparaiso was picked to finish in fourth place in the Horizon League standings in 2016 in the preseason poll, as picked by the league’s head coaches. Oakland and UIC tied for first place and split the nine first-place votes, while Wright State tallied 48 points and the Crusaders 40.
A Veteran Group: Unlike last year's squad, which featured a myriad of freshmen, this year's Crusader team has just one newcomer - freshman Carly Trepanier. From last year's 17-player roster, 15 players are back in 2016.
League Play On the Horizon: This weekend marks the start of the Horizon League slate for the Crusaders, which features one three-game series against each of the other eight league programs. Valpo has finished in the top half of the league in seven of the eight years it has been a Horizon League member and owns a 98-63 (.601) record within league play.
Success in Vegas: Valpo enjoyed its strongest weekend of the season in Las Vegas in its final tournament of the early-season slate. The Crusaders defeated DePaul, 5-1 – the program’s first victory over the Blue Demons in 45 attempts. Later in the weekend, Valpo took down Santa Clara, 10-0 – the team’s first victory by 10 or more runs since a 13-3 win over Eastern Michigan on Apr. 1, 2014. For the weekend, the Crusaders averaged 5.8 runs per game and hit .357 as a team after hitting just .201 through the first three tournaments.
Standouts at the Plate: Seven of the nine Crusader regulars hit at least .300 during the tournament in Las Vegas, led by the power bats of senior Kaitlyn Ranieri and sophomore Taylor Nadler. Ranieri picked up hits in all five games in finishing the weekend 6-of-14 with a pair of walks, three doubles and four runs scored. Meanwhile, Nadler drove in a team-high eight runs over the five games, going 6-of-17 with a double, a triple, two home runs and three walks to OPS 1.332 for the tournament.
Pitcher of the Week Honors For Weissenhofer: Senior pitcher Taylor Weissenhofer earned her third Pitcher of the Week honor from the Horizon League office following her performances at UNLV’s tournament. Weissenhofer went 2-0 for the weekend with a 2.75 ERA and 22 strikeouts in 20.1 innings of work. Her weekend was highlighted by a one-hitter with 12 strikeouts in the win over Santa Clara, her second career one-hitter and tying her second-most K’s in a single game at Valpo.
New Records This Year: A pair of Crusader seniors have set new Valpo career records already this year. In the circle, Taylor Weissenhofer broke Valpo's career strikeouts record in the Crusaders' third game of the year - Feb. 13 versus St. John's - and now owns 488 career K's. At the plate, Kaitlyn Ranieri drew a walk in her first plate appearance of the year to set a new Valpo career record in that category and currently has 108 career walks.
Moving Up the Charts: While Ranieri already tops the career walks chart, she is poised to advance on a number of other career charts in the coming weeks. The senior is currently tied for third in Crusader history in doubles (41), tied for fourth in home runs (22), fourth in hits (200, three shy of third), fourth in total bases (313, 12 shy of third), fifth in runs scored (120, three shy of fourth) and sixth in RBIs (97, one shy of fifth and three shy of fourth).