MITCHELL, S.D. – After graduating only one senior a year ago, the Dakota Wesleyan University softball team will rely on an experienced roster with young talent to guide them through the 2019 season.
The Tigers were selected eighth in the Great Plains Athletic Conference Preseason Poll. With seven seniors and a lineup that has seen significant playing time, DWU is ready to take the next step this season.
DWU returns all five All-GPAC performers from a year ago including Andriana Sprakel (Yankton, S.D.), Sierra Haage (Sioux Falls, S.D.), Melysia Ortega (West Covina, Calif.), Amber Budmark (Sacramento, Calif.) and Karly Severance (Las Vegas, Nev.). Other returners that will make a difference this season include Chaydon Metzger (Larchwood, Iowa), Katelyne Dougherty (Maui, Hawaii), Claudia Nixon (Shaunavon, Saskatchewan, Canada), Alexis Konda (Sioux Falls, S.D.), Devany Farris (Cheyenne, Wyo.) Alyssa Garcia (L.A. Verne, Calif.), Andrea Konz (Mitchell, S.D.), Kindra Clark (Garretson, S.D.), Alyson VanderPol (Mitchell, S.D.) and Mikael Smith (Brandon, S.D.).
With a good number of upperclassmen and seniors, head softball coach Ed Kieff looks to rely on those seniors.
"Five of the seven are and have basically been starters since coming to campus," Kieff said of his seniors. "The other two seniors have also played and contributed extensively. I really don't have to say much, they see something that needs to be done and it's taken care of. But their talents on the field are what stands out the most."
Haage will be looked at as the leader on the mound following a standout year last season. Haage finished the season with a 3.16 ERA and a record of 12-7 with 16 complete games and 97 strikeouts. The senior also hit for .343 and 24 hits, while tallying five homeruns and 20 runs batted in.
Sprakel also returns as one of the leaders of the team. The senior infielder led the team a season ago with a .380 batting average along with 57 hits. Severance will also be a big factor for the Tigers this season. Severance led DWU in homeruns last year, hitting eight homeruns and collected 25 RBIs. The senior infielder also broke the program record for homeruns in a career as she currently sits with 22 homeruns in her career. Budmark will return at third base for the Tigers after hitting .349 with 38 hits and six homeruns.
Vanderpol will also look to build on last season after pitching 73 innings while notching a 5.82 ERA and 31 strikeouts. Metzger is having a nice start to the season in her second year with the program. The sophomore is batting .474 with nine hits and four runs batted in.
Some newcomers that have made a splash early in the season include Andriana Thomason (Las Vegas, Nev.), who has played in 13 games and has collected 11 hits in 25 at-bats. The freshman has hit two homeruns and has driven in eight runs thus far. Allison McElveny (Chula Vista, Calif.) and Peyton Senger (Sioux Falls, S.D.) have made solid contributions in the early season as both players are batting over .270 and have not committed an error the season.
DWU is currently 5-15 overall on the year. The Tigers have connected on 16 homeruns on the season and are batting .294 as team with 155 total hits. DWU has played tough competition throughout the first half of the season at the PC Dome Classic, as well as the Tucson Invitational. The Tigers will now focus on their conference slate, which includes three teams that are currently ranked in the NAIA top-25 polls.
"As a program we strive to be our best on and off the field," Kieff commented. "Play hard and win the GPAC title. We really felt we had a shot last year, but we fell short, so we've worked hard to get ready for another shot."
With fields being unplayable, the 2019 schedule has been moved around already in the early season. The Tigers next scheduled game is a GPAC doubleheader against Mount Marty College at 1 p.m. Saturday in Yankton, S.D. The next home game scheduled for DWU is against Dordt College on Wednesday, March 27. Senior day will take place against University of Jamestown on April 24 in Mitchell, S.D.