"We Want More."
Ashland University's softball team is coming off a 2015 season in which it went 39-10 and made its seventh consecutive NCAA postseason appearance.
Satisfied? Not in the least. Hence, the team's 2016 mantra – "We Want More."
"I think the biggest thing with the team this year is to play game-by-game, and look at the season in parts," said Ashland head coach Sheilah Gulas, whose team had its best won-lost record since 1998 and finished second in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference regular-season standings a spring ago. "We have the start of our season where we have a lot of region games. As we start our season, if we want to be ranked within the region, we've got to do well early. We need to start strong.
"Then we, of course, have the second part of our season, which is the GLIAC. And there's another opportunity that we can make some strides, distance ourselves from people, but we've got to be in the top of the GLIAC. Then, that will determine whether we reach that goal, that milestone (of eight straight NCAA tournaments). We just have to win the games we have to win."
In the pitcher's circle, Ashland has two seniors in left-hander Sarah Alley (12-3 record, three saves, 2.18 earned-run average in 2015) and righty Brittany Flanigan (8-2, five saves, 2.32 ERA), and two freshmen, Abbie Sgro and Hannah Stroe.
"The freshmen are definitely complimentary of the upperclassmen. They are learning a lot," Gulas said. "They're getting a lot from them, and I think we have a very strong staff. We're going to need all of them, and all of them are going to have to do all roles."
Alley also is an asset at the plate, as well, where she hit .319 with nine RBIs in 47 at-bats a season ago.
Offensively, Ashland's two top returning run-producers are senior first baseman Jen Moore and senior catcher Bri Buckley, both of whom had breakout junior seasons. Moore hit .390 with 11 doubles, 10 home runs and 43 RBIs, while Buckley hit .304 with nine doubles, three homers and 21 RBIs.
"If they do what they did last year and take it a little bit more and get a little bit of consistency with it, we're going to be outstanding through the middle of the order," Gulas said. "They've got that leadership approach."
Coach Gulas on the 2016 Season
At second base, junior Kalene Freshour returns after settling in at the position in 2015 and hitting .358 with 20 RBIs and 12 stolen bases.
"She's great putting the ball in play, her batting average was great, she found a way to get on base, she was good with runners on base," said Gulas.
Senior Shelbie Prince (.313, 23 RBIs, eight steals) will play shortstop after taking over there in the middle of last season.
"(She) was steady out there for us, and definitely is bringing that valuable experience to that spot," Gulas said.
Sophomore Marissa Caraballo will begin at third base after serving as the team's top pinch-runner as a freshman.
"Marissa's a scrappy middle infielder that plays hard and has got some great speed and a strong arm," Gulas said. "Marissa's going to do some pretty good things there."
Either Caraballo or junior left fielder Ally Farrah (.348, 14 RBIs, nine stolen bases), another player with a breakout 2015 season, will be the leadoff hitter in 2016.
"Ally was seeing the ball a lot better in the fall," Gulas said. "I was so confident last year with her in RBI situations."
Along with Farrah in the outfield, junior Jenny Raguz will be in center field after hitting .256 with six RBIs in 39 at-bats last year as a right fielder.
"She gets a great jump, she's got a strong arm, so definitely, she's ready to step in and play that spot," said Gulas.
Right field will be manned by freshman Katie Mitchell and sophomore Shaye Kuhlman. Gulas said Mitchell is a strong hitter who hits for power, and Mitchell and Kuhlman both will have opportunities until one pulls away.
The designated player spot could be filled by Alley when not pitching, along with whomever isn't catching and freshman first baseman Katie Manahan.
One player who won't be ready when the season starts due to injury is freshman outfielder Kayla Troyer, who will return midseason and serve as a pinch-runner.
"She might win some games for us in that spot," Gulas said.
Ashland will begin 2016 with five games on Friday-Sunday (Feb. 26-28) at the Dome Invitational in Rosemont, Ill.