2018 IN REVIEW: Ashland University's softball team finished at 23-25 overall and 13-15 in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference, qualifying for the GLIAC Tournament for the 22nd time in 23 seasons in the league. Due to numerous weather-related postponements and cancelations, the Eagles played their final 10 regular-season doubleheaders in a 13-day stretch to end April.
"The team did a really good job of adapting," said Ashland head coach Emlyn Knerem, who was in her first season guiding the Eagles in 2018. "With everything…they really just took that and ran with it. Obviously, it was not ideal for anybody, but it was really great to see."
JONES' STRONG SECOND HALF: Freshman pitcher Laney Jones came on strong to end her rookie collegiate campaign. She ended the season at 6-5 with a 3.93 earned-run average and 61 strikeouts in 83 2/3 innings, but in April and May, those numbers were 5-3, 3.51, and 52 strikeouts to 25 walks over 65 2/3 frames. Included in that late-season stretch was a two-hit shutout at then-No. 10-ranked Grand Valley State on April 21.
"Getting so much experience at the end of the season was great for her," Knerem said. "That experience for her is great, and I'm looking forward to seeing a bigger leap for her this season."
LOOKING AHEAD TO 2019: In 2018, Ashland had two seniors. In 2019, the Eagles will have 10 – including six who had at least 90 at-bats as juniors.
"We have so many returners coming back," said Knerem. "They know what they're going to get. They know what the schedule's going to be like. There's so many games I think we could have won, we just had one bad inning. That's going to be a big focus for us this year.
"Going into this fall, I know the team, which is nice. It's less of a stress for me. And they're more comfortable with my coaching style and my expectations and how we're going to run things."
The batting order in 2019 will feature six returning All-GLIAC players – seniors Paige Summers (third base, .366 average, nine home runs, 35 RBIs), Kylie Asmus (first base, .363, four home runs, 25 RBIs) and Erika Farst (center field, .306, 12 RBIs); and juniors Camille Pollutro (second base, .390, five home runs, 22 RBIs), Bree Gill (shortstop, .291, two home runs, 18 RBIs) and catcher Cassie Haight (.226, 11 RBIs, GLIAC-high-tying 12 runners caught stealing).
Summers also earned all-region honors last spring.
A boost to the lineup will be the return of third baseman Dayna Denner off injury. Denner, the 2017 GLIAC Freshman of the Year, played in five games as a sophomore in 2018 before missing the remainder of the season.
"Getting Dayna's bat back in the lineup and getting her glove back in the field will be big for us," Knerem said. "We did a good job of managing that when she did get hurt. She can make a huge impact this coming year. I'm excited to see what this lineup can do."
In the pitcher's circle, Jones, now a sophomore, is joined again by All-GLIAC second-teamer Hannah Stroe, a senior who was 9-11, 3.26 last spring and has logged 376 career innings as an Eagle, and senior Abbie Sgro.
"The three of them now have quite a bit of experience," said Knerem.
Ashland's 2018 ended with an 0-2 stint in the conference tournament. That will be a source of motivation for 2019.
"When we talked to the girls individually after the season ended, a lot of them were disappointed with how things happened," Knerem said. "They recognize that they can't take their foot off the pedal. We have to go hard every inning, every pitch, every at-bat, and not let up."