Head coach Shawn Semler liked the position his Concordia University softball program began in when the fall semester got underway. A year earlier, everything felt new and different as the slate was wiped clean with a new coaching staff. The dynamics meshed together in a manner that allowed the Bulldogs to place third in the GPAC in 2019.
Concordia arrived back on campus this fall with four All-GPAC players back in the fold in the form of Hhana Haro, Tori Homolka, Camry Moore and Allysia Thayer. Such veterans have already brought a calmness to the 2019-20 squad.
“This fall was so much different than last fall with the girls because they feel good about where they are,” Semler said. “They worked hard this offseason in a more productive way than if they were trying to prove something to me. It’s a unique dynamic in that we have a veteran team now. We’re practicing better than we did last year. Then it was more about getting to know me. Now they could work on some things that should really make us better.”
The reports from the fall are quite glowing and provided a hint of the expectations that will follow the Bulldogs into the spring. Unfortunately, some fall competitions were wiped out by rain, but Concordia earned favorable results against an in-state NCAA Division II foe and gained confidence in a pitching staff that graduated first team all-conference performer Brittany Woolridge.
A developing storyline is the integration of increased speed brought in by this year’s class of newcomers. The fall showcased how well this new aspect will combine with some of the aforementioned veteran players. Of course Semler will be happy to continue to watch the likes of Haro and Homolka smash extra base hits, but this team is showing an ability to also play small ball when the situation calls for it.
“Last year we got ourselves in games where we didn’t have enough team speed,” Semler said. “I think it hurt us against the better teams. We wanted to see our young kids and show off our speed. We have a lot of new kids who are very athletic and can really play. We wanted to see how that would combine with what we have back.”
It's not unusual for softball teams to ride one dominant pitcher, but Semler sees another solid one-two punch developing. Bulldog fans got a preview last season of what’s in store for Moore, a budding young star who supplies a big bat in the lineup, in addition to her work in the circle. Moore will have help from lefty Zoe Flores, a native of Port LaVaca, Texas. Moore and Flores have different styles that should make for a tough adjustment for opponents.
“One of the things we wanted to see was how our incoming pitching would do and to throw them out against some quality people,” Semler said. “You want to know now how to match up with the Morningsides, Midlands and those top tier schools. Zoe really shut some teams down and that was exciting to watch. We like what we’ve got coming out of the fall.”
Let’s get back to Moore, a control artist who logged 132.2 innings and had a 2.85 ERA as a freshman. She walked only 13 batters all season. She also hit .322 and notched 24 RBIs. She has the potential for more. Said Semler, “Camry continually works to get better. It’s impressive for someone as good as she is already. She’s never satisfied. The strides she’s made from the end of last year until now is pretty impressive.”
Anyone who watched the team play last season will be familiar with some of the other veterans who reemerged this fall, including sophomore Kylee Nixon, senior Savannah Robertson and junior MacKinsey Schmidt, among others. Nixon forced her way into the lineup last season with her consistent bat. She hit .431 (31-for-72) while slugging .611. Meanwhile, Schmidt has been a two-year starter in center field. More will be learned about the newcomers as the winter months come and go.
What’s already clear is that Semler expects his team to have the attitude that it will back down to no one, including perennially strong GPAC programs like Morningside and Midland. The Mustangs ended Concordia’s season in GPAC tournament pod play this past spring. That seemed to be plenty enough motivation over the summer and so far this fall semester.
“There is such top tier in our conference,” Semler said. “There are several schools that probably feel really good about where they’re at, which is going to make for a great season. We stack up with anyone. You always hear things during fall ball from the teams you see. We know some other teams have added some Division II type of pitchers. It will be interesting to see how they mesh with their teams.”
Woolridge graduated along with a few others who played significant innings over their careers at Concordia, such as Leah Kalwarf, Jamie Lefebure and Elanna Osthoff. Despite such departures, the Bulldogs enjoyed a prosperous fall.
Semler says his team will take more days off this winter than it did last year in order to avoid burnout. He’s confident in that approach due to the makeup of this team. Says Semler, “We’re such a veteran team that it’s not going to take long to get ready.”
The official start to the season is set for Feb. 28 with a doubleheader at Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kan. In a twist to the 2020 slate, Concordia will be in Clermont, Fla., for spring break. The complete schedule can be viewed HERE.