At a glance
2014 Record: 32-16 overall; 12-8 GPAC (T-3rd)
Head Coach: Todd LaVelle (32-16, 2nd year)
Key Returners: INF/OF Palmer Bosanko, OF Regan Doiel, 1B Molly Madsen, OF Diana Mendoza, UTIL/P Julia Tyree, 3B Rebecca Walker
Key Losses: P Amanda Beeson, OF Brittany Hudler, INF Shelby Morose, C Amber Topil
Key Newcomers: P Jordana Goncalves, C Shelby Schacher, P Michaela Woodward
2014 GPAC All-Conference: Amanda Beeson (second team), Molly Madsen (second team), Amber Topil (honorable mention)
By Jake Knabel, Director of Athletic Communications
The Concordia University softball team eyes even greater heights in 2015 following a 2014 campaign in which it made a thrilling run to the GPAC tournament championship game to clinch the program’s first-ever national tournament berth. A season that surprised many brought 32 wins and enhanced expectations entering year two under head coach Todd LaVelle. Last season the Bulldogs were slotted seventh in the GPAC preseason coaches’ poll. This offseason they received the most first-place votes and were picked second.
LaVelle and company believe the 2015 roster is stocked with greater overall talent. A strong returning nucleus is expected to be joined by a group of eight newcomers on the varsity roster. The right people are in place for another run at the top of the league standings.
“Since day one when I came in here my expectations have been high,” LaVelle said. “I don’t coach to get second place or third. Last year we wanted the first-place trophy and we were probably one run away. This year is no different. Our goal is to win the conference. Our goal is to get 40 wins. Our goal is to make it to the national tournament. With that being said, we’re not going to surprise anyone this year and we know that."
While four-year stalwarts such as ace pitcher Amanda Beeson and starting catcher Amber Topil have graduated, a large portion of last season’s starting lineup returns. LaVelle has a pair of senior captains back at the corner infield spots in two-time second team all-conference choice Molly Madsen at first base and third baseman Becca Walker, who batted .313 in her first season as a Bulldog.
When she’s not pitching, junior captain Julia Tyree will also see time in the infield as potentially the team’s primary second baseman. The three captains were all key components of the late-season run in 2014 and carry a quiet confidence into the new year.
“We’re very confident,” Madsen said. “Even though we lost some key players last year, I feel like we gained a bunch of good players with the freshman class and some of the transfers we had come in. Even though we have some leadership voids without Amanda (Beeson) and Amber (Topil), we have other people who can step up and realize it’s their turn to take on that responsibility. I think we’ve done a good job establishing those roles. Everyone’s going to come together.”
The shortstop spot will be filled most frequently by Palmer Bosanko, who put together a solid freshman season while splitting time between right field and short. Bosanko took over as Concordia’s main shortstop over the final 11 games and looked like a natural fit.
LaVelle also has more than enough options for his three outfield spots. Athletic and rangy standouts in senior center fielder Regan Doiel and sophomore left fielder Diana Mendoza provide plenty of speed. Both hit above .300 last season while combining for 25 stolen bases.
“I would put Regan and Diana up against anyone in the conference,” LaVelle said. “They’re excellent outfielders. As a matter of fact, Diana was recruited as a catcher. She would be a great catcher, but I just can’t afford to take her out of the outfield. Regan has held down the center field spot for several years at Concordia and done an excellent job.”
That leaves an opening in right field where Bulldog fans should expect to see newcomers such as British Columbia native Jordana Goncalves and Peru State College transfer MaKenna Tracy. LaVelle likes the bat of Goncalves, who will also get opportunities in the circle. Meanwhile, Tracy already possesses experience at the NAIA level after hitting .393 with four home runs in 28 games last season as a Bobcat.
The competition to replace Topil at catcher includes freshman Shelby Schacher, the Nebraska high school Class B record holder for career RBIs, as well as another rookie and two seniors in Clarissa Beving and Liz Maxwell. Says LaVelle of Schacher, “She does a good job behind the plate and she has a really good bat. We’re excited about her.”
The expectation LaVelle has for his group of position players is to score more. Last season Concordia ranked third among GPAC teams in runs per game (5.40), but the Bulldog skipper has reason to believe the 2015 squad will be even more prolific.
“Our offensive production’s got to be better,” LaVelle said. “We’d like to be around .330 (batting average) and be a scoring threat up and down the lineup. In the offseason we looked at some of our weaknesses and that was one of them. We did go out and hire who I feel is one of the best hitting instructors in the state of Nebraska – Coach Doug Dawson. He’s done an excellent job in the offseason preparing the girls with their hitting. I think you will see the production of our offense taken up a notch or two.”
An expected increase in run scoring will help a youthful pitching staff that will attempt to make up for the loss of Beeson. Norris High School first team all-state hurler Michaela Woodward has the potential to take over the role of ace pitcher. Woodward impressed LaVelle during the fall exhibition season and appears to have the ability to shoulder a heavy load in her first collegiate season.
Tyree represents the most experienced option in the circle. She’s thrown more than 200 innings over her first two collegiate seasons. Last year the native of Benicia, Calif., went 10-3 with a 4.00 ERA. Competition will also come from Goncalves and returnee Lexye Bruegman, who worked 32 innings as a freshman.
Madsen says newcomers such as Goncalves, Schacher and Woodward have made seamless transitions. A strong unit last season from a chemistry standpoint, Concordia hopes to foster the same winning culture in 2015.
“The way they were able to come in and get along with the chemistry we already had on the team, it kind of felt like we had already been playing with each other for a while,” Madsen said. “They are very mature and are able to step up and bring what we need to the table.”
While this year’s team has a larger target on its back to open the campaign, the 2015 Bulldogs feel more comfortable and prepared in year two under LaVelle. That added bonus will serve as a key factor for a Concordia team that will try to live up to enhanced preseason hype.
“Last year we were kind of flying by the seat of our pants,” LaVelle said. “Everything was new. I had never been in the college ranks before and never been to the different venues. I didn’t know how it all worked. It’s definitely a more relaxed environment now. I feel like we’re way ahead in practice right now than we were a year ago.”
The Bulldogs are scheduled to open the 2015 season on Tuesday, March 3 when they travel to play a doubleheader at Bethany College in Lindsborg, Kan. First pitch is slated for 3 p.m.