The weather in Ashland belies it, but Ashland University's softball team will start the 2019 season this weekend.
Playing at The Dome at the Ballpark in Rosemont, Ill., the Eagles will take part in four games on Friday and Saturday (Feb. 22-23) at the Lewis Flyers Division II Midwest Region Dome Invitational. Ashland will face Lewis (9 a.m.) and William Jewell (1:30 p.m.) on Friday, and Missouri S&T (6 p.m.) and Lindenwood (8 p.m.) on Saturday.
"I feel like we obviously know the upperclassmen a lot better this year," said Ashland head coach Emlyn Knerem, starting her second season. "I think this group meshes really well. We are very experienced in terms of playing time, so it will be interesting to see how it all pans out to start, and how we really kick this season off."
Knerem noted that the Eagles have been outside for practice one time – which may be a positive when playing the first four games of the season in a dome.
"It almost works to our advantage in a way, because we are playing on turf," Knerem said. "It'll be nice to get some games under us before we get down to Florida."
Offensively, Ashland boasts what potentially could be one of the top units in the Great Lakes Intercollegiate Athletic Conference. The lineup is veteran-laden, with all seven players who had at least 114 at-bats in 2018 returning in 2019. The Eagles also welcome back junior third baseman Dayna Denner, the 2017 GLIAC Freshman of the Year who missed all but five games last spring due to injury.
"I think Dayna is very anxious to get back," Knerem said. "She has been working hard to get healthy and get to a place that she can be in the lineup. That has been her goal.
"When you get that heart of the lineup, with Dayna and (senior first baseman) Kylie (Asmus) and (senior third baseman/first baseman) Paige (Summers), if you get them all hot at the same time, and then you add (junior shortstop) Bree Gill and you add Cam (junior second baseman Camille Pollutro), and you add (junior catcher) Cassie (Haight) and (senior center fielder) Erika (Farst), we have so many tools, and there's so much power there."
The pitching load is going to be carried by sophomore Laney Jones and seniors Hannah Stroe and Abbie Sgro. With four games in two days this weekend, Knerem will start to find out about her staff quickly.
"You want to be able to see what the kids can do," said Knerem. "We have somewhat of an idea with Hannah and Abbie. Laney came on late last year, and got stronger as the season went on, but we'll see how she does at the beginning of the year.
"We can afford a little bit, at the beginning of the season, to let our pitchers go a little longer than maybe we would at the end of the season. We're going to be working as a staff all season."
Ashland's four games in Illinois will set it up for its annual Florida spring trip, March 3-9. The Eagles' home opener is slated for March 16 at 1 p.m., a doubleheader at Brookside Park vs. Ohio Dominican.