Courtesy: Nebraska Athletics
The ninth-ranked Nebraska softball team opens the 2014 season this weekend with four games in three days at the Hotel Encanto Invitational at the NMSU Softball Complex in Las Cruces, N.M.
The Huskers open their season on Friday at 10:30 a.m. against UTEP before facing No. 12 Florida State later in the day. NU takes on host New Mexico State on Saturday before a rematch with the Seminoles on Sunday. Nate Rohr will call every game this weekend with free radio broadcasts on Huskers.com.
Nebraska has high hopes this spring after ending the 2013 campaign with a 45-16 record, a No. 8 final ranking and the program's seventh trip to the Women's College World Series. The Huskers return their entire pitching staff from last season, while also bringing back five position starters and Dawna Tyson, who split time as NU's designated player in 2013. Senior twins Tatum and Taylor Edwards give Nebraska a pair of All-Americans on its roster, one of only seven teams nationally featuring multiple All-Americans. The Huskers also return a total of four all-conference players.
The Huskers kickstarted last season's campaign with a 5-0 record in Las Cruces, scoring 47 runs. Fueled by that performance, Nebraska went on to match the best 10-game start in school history (9-1).
NU has won 13 consecutive games at the NMSU Softball Complex dating back to 2010. To keep that streak going, Nebraska will need to open the year with a win over UTEP, win two games against No. 12 FSU and post a road victory over New Mexico State. The Huskers were road warriors in 2013, totaling the most road victories in school history while finishing with a 17-7 record in opposing stadiums. NU hasn't fared as well in racking up multiple victories over ranked teams in non-conference tournaments.
Nebraska has not posted two top-25 wins at a non-conference tournament since 2011, when the 18th-ranked Huskers posted wins over No. 25 BYU and No. 10 Hawaii at the Cathedral City Classic. The last time NU posted two victories over top-15 teams at a non-conference tournament was when the eighth-ranked Huskers beat No. 12 DePaul and No. 10 Michigan in Las Vegas to open the 2004 season.
The two matchups against Florida State are the start of a challenging non-conference schedule for the Huskers. Nebraska, which faced the nation's toughest non-conference schedule in 2013 according to the NCAA RPI, will face nine top-16 teams in its first 22 games. In a 13-game stretch from Feb. 21 to March 8, NU will play four games against the top three teams in the country and seven contests against teams ranked in the top 16.
Scouting the UTEP Miners (0-0)
UTEP opens its 2014 season against Nebraska on Friday in former Husker Tobin Echo-Hawk's Miner debut. Rhonda Revelle's first Husker All-American, Echo-Hawk came to UTEP after five seasons at Portland State, where she went 146-127. She inherits a UTEP team that finished 13-35 in 2013.
The Miners hit .264 last season, while averaging 3.7 runs per game. Erika Arcuri paced the starters with a .347 average, scoring a team-high 26 runs. Alanna Leasau was UTEP's top slugger last season, posting team-high totals of seven doubles, eight homers and 40 RBIs. Leasau walked only five times in 151 plate appearances in 2013 while striking out 41 times, but she posted a team-high .469 slugging percentage. UTEP must replace a pair of .300 hitters in Kayla Oranger (.323) and Ariel Armendariz (.310), while replacing the production of Ashley Collazo, the 2013 team-leader in triples, and Kayleigh Walts, who was second on the team with three home runs and 20 RBIs last season.
In the circle, Danielle Pearson threw more than half of the Miners' total innings last spring, when she finished 6-14 with a 3.80 ERA in 156.2 innings. Colleen Hohman posted a 5-11 record with a 6.01 ERA in 82.2 innings. Joanna Krienitz (1-2, 4.94 ERA in 11.1 IP), Jade Rodriguez (1-2, 6.55 ERA in 25.2 IP) and Laura Ramos (0-3, 7.10 ERA in 23.2 IP) also return. UTEP's lone loss is Cynthia Villastrigo (0-3, 7.93 ERA in 15.0 IP). Overall, UTEP posted a 5.07 staff ERA in 2013, as opponents hit .312 against the Miners while averaging 5.7 runs per game.
Nebraska is a perfect 3-0 all-time against UTEP, outscoring the Miners 30-4. NU topped UTEP 6-4 at the 2010 Hotel Encanto Invitational, before sweeping a doubleheader in El Paso the next season (8-0 and 16-0).
Scouting the Florida State Seminoles (0-0)
Florida State, ranked 12th in the preseason USA Softball poll, opens its 2014 season on Friday against the ninth-ranked Huskers. The Seminoles return eight players who started at least 30 games last season, when FSU won the ACC, finished with a No. 14 national ranking and won an NCAA Regional. Florida State was just 2-11 against ranked teams last year, including seven shutout losses.
FSU hit .292 in 2013, averaging 5.5 runs per game while slugging 60 home runs. The Seminoles also legged out 21 triples and drew 227 walks. FSU must replace two of its top three hitters in Morgan Bullock (.346) and Kirstin Austin (.333). Courtney Senas is the top returning hitter after batting .333 last spring with team-high totals of 58 runs, 14 home runs and a .646 slugging percentage. Victoria East hit .320 with a team-best 16 doubles, while Kelly Hensley slugged 13 home runs and produced a team-high 54 RBIs. Maddie O'Brien and Celeste Gomez each added 10 home runs in 2013. Overall, FSU returns four players who produced double-digit home runs last season and five players who drove in at least 30 runs.
In the circle, the Seminoles ranked 10th nationally with a 1.82 staff ERA in 2013. Ace Lacey Waldrop returns for her junior season after earning third-team All-America honors last spring. Waldrop was 24-10 with a 1.53 ERA in 219.1 innings last season. Opponents hit just .191 against her with only six home runs in 832 at bats. She also added 259 strikeouts while boasting a strikeout-to-walk ratio of nearly 5-to-1. Jessica Nori (1-0, 1.79 ERA in 15.2 IP) and Bailey Schinella (0-0, 7.30 ERA in 7.2 IP) also return. FSU must replace the lost production of Monica Perry, who finished 19-9 with a 1.95 ERA in 165.1 innings last season.
Nebraska leads the all-time series with Florida State, 10-5, including a 2-0 Husker upset of the 23rd-ranked Seminoles last season.
Scouting the New Mexico State Aggies (0-0)
New Mexico State will host Nebraska in the season's opening month for the fifth straight season on Saturday. The Aggies finished 37-20 in 2013, including a 21-8 home record. NMSU returns six regular starters from last year's WAC runner-up team.
Offensively, New Mexico State returns five of its top six hitters from 2013, when NMSU hit .288 as a team, slugged 54 home runs and averaged 4.6 runs per game. Staci Rodriguez batted .357 with 11 doubles, 20 homers and 63 RBIs last spring, slugging .780. Kelsey Dodd batted .318 with a team-high 14 doubles, adding eight home runs and 35 RBIs to rank second on the team in both categories. The Aggies must replace the production of Amber Olive, who led the team with a .392 average and 16 stolen bases in 2013. Teresa Conrad was also lost to graduation after totaling 12 doubles, five home runs and 26 RBIs last season.
In the circle, NMSU must replace ace Alex Newman (24-13, 1.88 ERA in 205.1 IP in 2013), who appeared in all but 11 of the Aggies' games last season, earned 37 decisions and threw more than half of New Mexico State's total innings. The Aggies' three returning pitchers combined for a 13-7 record in 2013 with a 3.33 ERA, compared to a team ERA of 2.57. Celisha Walker (4-2, 3.51 ERA in 83.2 IP) saw the most action behind Newman in 2013, followed by Makayla McAdams (4-3, 3.16 ERA in 64.1 IP) and Karysta Donisthorpe (5-2, 3.23 ERA in 39.0 IP).
Nebraska has won eight straight games against New Mexico State, and the Huskers lead the all-time series 13-5. NU has won six straight games at the NMSU Softball Complex, scoring 59 runs in those six wins.
The information below provides a quick glimpse of a few brief notes heading into the season-opening Hotel Encanto Invitational on the campus of New Mexico State University:
Huskers Feature Talented 2014 Roster
Talented can certainly describe a 2014 Husker roster that includes six players who have been either high school or collegiate All-Americans. On paper, Nebraska's talent stacks up well with any team in the country.
The Huskers are one of only seven teams nationally to feature multiple Division I All-Americans on their 2014 roster. Senior twins Tatum and Taylor Edwards are Nebraska's returning All-Americans, as Tatum was a 2013 second-team selection at the utility/pitcher position, while Taylor was a third-team All-America catcher in 2011.
To gauge the Huskers' individual talent, consider this: Nebraska is one of only 12 teams nationally with a returning All-America pitcher; the Huskers are one of four teams nationally with both a returning All-America hitter and pitcher; NU is one of seven teams nationally whose batting lineup features a pair of All-Americans.
Each of the four teams with a returning All-America pitcher and hitter (Arizona State, Florida, Nebraska and Tennessee) made the 2013 Women's College World Series. Nebraska and Arizona State also own the distinction of being the nation's only two teams with an All-America pitcher and catcher.
This spring marks the first time NU has opened a season with multiple All-Americans on its roster since 1999, with infielder Jennifer Lizama (1997 second team) and pitcher Jenny Voss (1998 first team). Nebraska also returns a pair of first-team all-region pitchers in Tatum Edwards and sophomore Emily Lockman. Lockman was one of only two freshmen pitchers nationally to be a first-team all-region selection in 2013, while Nebraska and Florida are the only two schools in the country to bring back a pair of first-team all-region pitchers from 2013.
Both Edwards twins and Lockman were also All-Big Ten selections last spring. Sophomore Alicia Armstrong, a 2013 second-team All-Big Ten honoree, gives Nebraska four returning all-conference players in 2014. Junior Mattie Fowler, sophomore Kiki Stokes and freshman MJ Knighten add to the talented roster, as each claimed All-America honors in high school. Lockman was also a high school All-American.
What the Huskers Return From 2013
Nebraska must replace the lost production of five players from last season, including four starters, two of whom were four-year starters. Each of the four lost starters was an All-Big Ten selection in 2012, 2013 or both seasons. While Nebraska has some key pieces to replace, the Huskers return the bulk of their offensive production, and the NU pitching staff returns 100 percent of its production from last spring, when it ranked 15th nationally with a 1.85 ERA.
Despite the loss of four starters, Nebraska returns at least 60 percent of its offensive production in every major statistical category. The Huskers return nearly two-thirds of their production in hits, at bats and runs, while bringing back more than two-thirds of last year's double, triple, home run and stolen base totals.
Individually, the Huskers bring back four all-conference selections this spring in senior twins Tatum and Taylor Edwards and sophomores Alicia Armstrong and Emily Lockman. Both Edwards twins have also earned All-America honors in their careers.
A Look at the Newcomers
Nebraska welcomes five fresh faces to its 2014 roster in freshmen Rachel Arthur, MJ Knighten, Lotte Sjulin, Austen Urness and Kat Woolman. Knighten is NU's expected starter at third base, while Urness and Woolman are each competing for a starting outfield spot. Arthur and Sjulin are also expected to make their debuts this weekend.
Arthur was a two-time all-state selection at Lincoln Pius X High School. Woolman also played for the Thunderbolts and produced a Nebraska Class B-record 128 career RBIs while twice earning a spot on the Lincoln Journal Star Super State squad. Sjulin, an Omaha native, earned Class B all-state honors as a senior.
A pair of California natives round out NU's freshman class. Knighten and Urness are both products of the Corona Angels travel team, the same program that produced the Edwards twins, Emily Lockman and Dawna Tyson. Knighten batted .456 in her career for Sunny Hills High School and was recognized as a second-team high school All-American following her senior season. Urness was a three-time, first-team All-CIF Southern Section honoree after posting a .474 batting average with 28 home runs and 122 RBIs for Lakeside High School.
Huskers Boast One of Nation's Top Pitching Staffs
Nebraska's pitching staff ranked 15th nationally with a Big Ten-best 1.85 ERA in 2013. The staff, which also helped NU rank 12th nationally in wins last spring, returns intact for the 2014 season. Senior right-hander Tatum Edwards is back after earning second-team All-America accolades last spring, when she was also named the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year. Sophomore right-hander Emily Lockman also returns following an outstanding freshman season when she was a first-team all-region selection and a second-team All-Big Ten pick. Sophomore Danica Bishop is also back after posting a team-low 1.75 ERA in limited action during the 2013 season. Below are some highlights of NU's returning staff.
Led by right-hander Tatum Edwards, a 2013 second-team All-America pitcher/utility player, and her twin sister Taylor, a 2011 third-team All-America catcher, Nebraska is one of only two teams nationally to feature an All-America pitcher and catcher on its 2014 roster. Arizona State is the only other team with an All-America battery, as pitcher Dallas Escobedo is a two-time All-American and catcher Amber Freeman, a teammate of the Edwards' twins with the Corona Angels, was a first-team All-American in 2013.
Tatum Edwards One of Nation's Top Pitchers
Senior Tatum Edwards returns for her final season following a breakout junior year in the circle which culminated with her earning second-team All-America honors. One of 13 returning All-America pitchers in 2014, Edwards posted a 30-10 record with a 1.91 ERA in 2013, when she became Nebraska's first All-America pitcher in nine seasons. Edwards ranked 11th nationally in shutouts (10) last spring, 12th in victories, 30th in hits allowed per seven innings (4.9) and 40th in strikeouts (229). Her 30 wins ranked fourth in Husker history, and Edwards also ranked seventh in shutouts and complete games (30) and eighth in innings pitched.
Edwards is Nebraska's first returning All-American in the circle since 2001, when Leigh Ann Walker returned for her junior season after earning second-team All-America honors as a sophomore. This spring, Edwards will look to join her pitching coach Lori Sippel as the only Husker pitchers to be two-time All-Americans. Sippel earned second-team All-America honors in both 1986 and 1987.
Edwards owns a 46-15 career record with a 2.17 ERA. She needs only three victories to move into 10th place on Nebraska's all-time wins chart. Edwards also ranks fourth in school history with a .754 career winning percentage and 10th with 333 strikeouts.
Her pitching prowess helped Edwards earn a spot as one of 50 players on the 2014 USA Softball Player-of-the-Year watch list.
Tatum Edwards One of Nation's Top Dual Threats
Senior Tatum Edwards earned second-team All-America honors in 2013 at the pitcher/utility position. She returns this spring as one of the nation's top dual threats in the circle and at the plate. Last season, Edwards produced 30 victories, while slugging 11 home runs. Edwards and Oklahoma's Keilani Ricketts, the 2012 and 2013 USA Softball National Player of the Year, were the only two players to win 30 games in the circle and hit 10 home runs at the plate in 2013. Overall, Edwards is one of only 11 known pitchers in NCAA history to reach both milestones in the same season.
In addition to her 46-15 career record in the circle, Edwards owns a .291 career batting average with 28 doubles, 32 home runs and 106 RBIs. Her 32 home runs rank in a tie for second nationally among all pitchers who also hit. In the Nebraska record book, Edwards ranks fifth in school history in career home runs and sixth with a .564 slugging percentage. She needs only seven doubles and 12 RBIs to crack Nebraska's all-time top 10 in both categories.
One of only four pitchers in school history to win 30 games in a season, Edwards is also closing in on a couple of elite offensive groups in Husker history. Edwards needs seven runs scored to become the 11th Husker to record 100 career hits, runs and RBIs. She also needs two doubles to become the sixth player in Nebraska history to produce 30 career doubles and 30 career home runs.
Taylor Edwards One of Nation's Top Catchers
While her twin sister Tatum is one of the nation's best pitchers, senior Taylor Edwards is one of the top catchers in the country. A third-team All-American as a freshman in 2011, Taylor is one of six returning All-America catchers in 2014. The only All-America catcher in Husker history, Edwards was a unanimous first-team All-Big Ten selection last spring, as well as earning the nod as the catcher on the Big Ten All-Defensive Team and a spot on the Women's College World Series All-Tournament squad. Edwards and Arizona State's Amber Freeman - teammates with the Corona Angels - are the only two active catchers in 2014 who have been named a finalist for the USA Softball Player-of-the-Year Award in their careers.
Edwards owns more career walks (109), runs scored (119), RBIs (159) and home runs (36) than any other 2014 catcher. Among all 2014 players, Edwards ranks fourth in career walks, fifth in career RBIs and tied for eighth in career home runs.
In her first three seasons, Edwards has also set a pair of NCAA records. She homered in six consecutive games the opening month of her career in 2011, one of three players in NCAA history to own the longest streak of consecutive games with a home run. Last year in the season-opening Hotel Encanto Invitational, Edwards slugged two grand slams against Illinois-Chicago, becoming only the fourth player in NCAA history to hit two grand slams in the same game.
‘TNT' Leaving Their Mark on Husker Record Book
Tatum and Taylor Edwards, Nebraska's dynamic twin sisters nicknamed "TNT", have already left their mark on the Husker record book, and each player aims to move up several school charts this season. Two of the top sluggers in school history, the twins both rank in the top five in Nebraska history with more than 30 home runs each, as 2014 marks the first time in school history that a Husker team opens a season with a pair of 30-home run hitters.
Taylor ranks second in school history with 26 hit-by-pitches, eight shy of the Husker record. She is third with 36 home runs and would break Ali Viola's school record if she slugged 18 home runs in 2014, a total she reached her freshman season. Edwards could also challenge Viola's RBI record of 213. Edwards enters her senior season with 159 RBIs, good for fourth in school history. She has averaged 53 RBIs per season in each of her first three years and would need 55 RBIs in 2014 to top Viola's record. One record Edwards seems certain to break is Jennifer Lizama's walk record. Edwards is just 15 walks shy of Lizama's mark, and Edwards has walked at least 30 times in each of her first three seasons. Edwards also owns the fourth-best slugging percentage in Husker history and ranks fifth with 69 extra-base hits.
Tatum has etched her name into both the Husker hitting and pitching record books. At the plate, she boasts the fifth-most home runs in school history and the sixth-best slugging percentage. Edwards also sits just outside Nebraska's all-time top 10 in RBIs (12 shy of 10th place), doubles (seven shy) and extra-base hits (one shy). In the circle, Edwards' .754 winning percentage ranks fourth in Husker history. She also ranks 10th in strikeouts (333) and 11th in victories (46). A second straight 30-win season - a feat never accomplished in school history - would vault Edwards into fourth place on Nebraska's all-time wins chart. Edwards is also four shutouts, 17 complete games and 137.2 innings shy of cracking the top 10 in each category.
Taylor Edwards Nearing Husker Career Walk Record
Senior Taylor Edwards is in good position to challenge several Nebraska career records in her final season. While the Huskers' all-time home run and RBI marks are within Edwards' reach, she is a near lock to set NU's all-time walks record. Edwards enters her senior season with 109 walks, good for fourth place in school history. She needs only 15 walks to tie the record of 124 walks, set by three-time All-American Jennifer Lizama. Edwards has drawn at least 32 walks in each of her first three seasons, as she is the only Husker to record three 30-walk seasons in a career. Nationally, Edwards' 109 career walks rank fourth among all active players.
Teammates Together Again in Lincoln
Fourteen of the 16 players who make up Nebraska's 2014 roster have a high school or travel ball teammate on the Husker roster. Seniors Tatum and Taylor Edwards, sophomores Emily Lockman and Dawna Tyson and freshmen Austen Urness and MJ Knighten all played for the Corona Angels. Junior Mattie Fowler and sophomore Sammi Noland were teammates at Canyon del Oro High School and with the AZ Desert Thunder. Junior Kylee Muir and sophomore Hailey Decker teamed up on the Northwest Bullets, while sophomore Alicia Armstrong and freshmen Lotte Sjulin and Kat Woolman were all on the Nebraska Gold roster for one season. Woolman also teamed up with classmate Rachel Arthur for four years at Lincoln Pius X High School. Sophomores Danica Bishop and Kiki Stokes are the only 2014 Huskers who do not have a high school or travel ball teammate on the roster.
Taylor Edwards & Fowler Named Husker Co-Captains
Senior Taylor Edwards and junior Mattie Fowler will serve as co-captains for Nebraska this season. Fowler is a co-captain for the second straight season, while Edwards is a captain for the first time in her career. Edwards is a four-year starter at catcher, where she was a 2011 third-team All-American. Fowler is in her third season as a starter and her second year as Nebraska's starting first baseman.
Sophomores Looking to Step Up
Following outstanding freshman campaigns, several Huskers look for an even better sophomore seasons this spring. Alicia Armstrong, Hailey Decker, Emily Lockman, Kiki Stokes and Dawna Tyson all return after combining for 233 starts as freshmen.
Armstrong returns for her second season as Nebraska's starting shortstop. She led Nebraska with 62 hits and a .346 average in 2013, when she was a second-team All-Big Ten selection and was the shortstop on the Big Ten All-Defensive team. Armstrong became the fourth freshman to lead NU in both hits and average and the first since 1997. Each of the previous three freshmen to accomplish that feat went on to earn at least two All-America awards in their careers. Armstrong was also just the fifth freshman to lead the Huskers in hits and the sixth to lead NU in average. Defensively, she fielded the most chances by a shortstop in school history (258) while posting the second-best shortstop fielding percentage (.953). Armstrong was only the fifth freshman shortstop in school history to be an all-conference selection and the first since 1997.
Decker batted .244 as a freshman and produced 19 extra-base hits. She was second on the team with 13 doubles, third with 29 RBIs and fourth with six home runs. Decker ranked third on Nebraska's all-time freshman chart in doubles and eighth in RBIs and home runs. She was also Nebraska's toughest player to strike out in 2013. Potentially poised for a breakout sophomore season, Decker went 18-for-26 (.692) during Nebraska's eight-game fall schedule against Division I opponents.
Lockman compiled a 15-6 record with a 1.78 ERA while tossing four shutouts in 157.2 innings as a freshman. She earned spots on the NFCA All-Midwest Region first team, the All-Big Ten first team and the Big Ten All-Tournament team. Lockman was the first freshman pitcher in school history to be a first-team all-region selection, and she was one of only two freshmen pitchers nationally to earn that honor in 2013. Lockman posted the fourth-lowest ERA by a freshman in school history while throwing the fifth-most innings, and she ranked fourth nationally in ERA among all 2013 freshmen.
Stokes earned 58 starts as a freshman, when she served as Nebraska's primary leadoff hitter and center fielder. Although her at bats were limited late in the season, the speedy Stokes posted a .264 average with one triple, two home runs and nine RBIs. She showed a good eye at the plate, drawing 26 walks to post a .403 on-base percentage. Stokes added 40 runs scored and 13 stolen bases in 16 attempts. Her 13 steals ranked eighth on Nebraska's all-time freshman chart.
Tyson earned 29 starts in 2013, primarily as the designated player. Also one of Nebraska's top pinch hitters last season, Tyson batted .264 with three homers and 16 RBIs. She also added eight walks and eight hit-by-pitches, a Nebraska freshman record.
Rounding out the sophomore class are Danica Bishop and Sammi Noland. Bishop produced a team-low 1.75 ERA in 2013, making five appearances and pitching 8.0 total innings. Noland appeared in 14 games and scored a pair of runs while backing up All-American Taylor Edwards behind the plate.
Huskers Hoping for Another Strong Defensive Season
Nebraska posted one of the top defensive seasons in school history in 2013, and the Huskers are hoping for an encore performance this spring. The ingredients appear to be in place for another strong defensive season, as Nebraska must replace only one infield starter from last year.
NU posted a .967 fielding percentage in 2013 despite three new starters on the infield and two new starters in the outfield. That percentage ranked eighth in school history. While Nebraska must replace two starting outfielders from last season and Gabby Banda at third base, the returning Huskers combined to field 84 percent of the defensive chances in 2013 and posted a collective .974 fielding percentage.
Nebraska also set a school record and ranked third in NCAA history with a nation-leading 49 double plays in 2013. Returning players had a hand in turning each of those 49 double plays a year ago. Sophomore middle infielders Alicia Armstrong (shortstop) and Hailey Decker (second base) both return this spring with a year under their belts. Armstrong and Decker each had a hand in 23 double plays last year.