CAA Softball: Team-By-Team Preview: Fresh-Faced CAA Loaded With Contenders
CAA Softball: Team-By-Team Preview: Fresh-Faced CAA Loaded With Contenders
Be prepared to see a lot of change in the CAA softball world this year. James Madison is gone, but four new teams have joined the fray for the 2023 season.
Be prepared to see a lot of change in the Colonial Athletic Association softball world this year.
Gone is James Madison, the eight-time regular-season CAA champ that departed the league for the Sun Belt Conference in the offseason.
In, are four new faces – Monmouth, North Carolina A&T, Hampton and Stony Brook – all ready to make their marks in the league and show they need to be taken seriously.
But the existing CAA programs that have stuck around are not there to roll out the red carpet for the arrivals – they’re in it to win it.
For the ones chasing glory, however, there’s going to be some new wrinkles in the journey to league trophies and beyond.
Things are about to get hectic, and with first pitch looming in the next couple of weeks, the wait is almost over.
Here’s a team-by-team preview of the CAA softball slate for the upcoming season. Many games featuring the teams below, conference matchups and otherwise, will be streamed live on FloSoftball.
2022: 11-38 overall (6-14 Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference), no postseason
The lowdown: Monmouth has been a consistent, winning program.
The Hawks entered 2022 with seven seasons over .500 (and three regular-season MAAC titles in a row in the full seasons before) in the past decade, but the wheels fell off last year, as they finished with their fewest number of victories across a full season since 1992.
Having the weakest-hitting lineup (.209 team average) and the fewest runs scored in the league (120) will do that, as Monmouth scored one run or less in a game 22 times, possessing an offense that struggled to stay in games if it got into a hole. Plus, the pitching rotation was, at best, leaky (4.30 team ERA).
Still, a new conference and change of scenery may provide a needed boost to the Hawks as they attempt to jumpstart the program again, though the CAA softball scene must not be taken lightly if Monmouth wants to thrive.
Central Arizona ➡️ Monmouth.— Monmouth Softball (@MonmouthSB) June 29, 2022
We’re excited to welcome Emily to West Long Branch!#FlyHawks pic.twitter.com/LMEyLIiKlm
Name to watch: Emily Churchill, Jr., INF
Portal additions and their immediate impacts probably will be one of the major determinants for how Monmouth’s inaugural CAA season will go, and Churchill is at the forefront of the Hawks’ esteemed transfer additions.
The Oregon native comes to New Jersey from Central Arizona College – a junior college powerhouse that has won 12 national championships – and in her lone campaign in the desert last season, she slashed a .322 average, .410 on-base percentage and .815 slugging percentage, with an eye-popping 22 home runs and 61 RBIs.
She helped the Vaqueras win 49 games.
By comparison, Monmouth had just 13 home runs as a team last year, so if Churchill – also a disciplined player, with more walks (23) than strikeouts (21) last year – is able to provide even just a fraction of the production she had at the JUCO level, she’ll make for a worthwhile addition into a Hawks batting order in desperate need of some pop.
North Carolina A&T Aggies
2022: 13-35 (3-21 Big South Conference), no postseason
The lowdown: A poor record and eight straight defeats to close out the season probably wasn’t how A&T wanted to end its brief tenure in the Big South (joining in 2021, leaving in 2023), but the Aggies’ future on the diamond looks bright.
Many of the program’s best players from 2022 were underclassmen, with a number among them being freshmen. Though loss after loss in the season surely stung, the experience gained against high-level competition should help A&T’s transition to the CAA go just a bit more smoothly.
Still, there probably are going to be plenty of bumps in the road, regardless, especially considering that last year’s coach, Patti Raduenz, resigned from her post in October after three seasons in charge.
Interim coach Diego Ibarra has taken over, and he’ll help the Aggies navigate the CAA. He’s experienced in the league himself, having formerly worked as an assistant coach on the staffs of UNC Wilmington and Hofstra, helping the Pride win the CAA title in 2018.
Name to watch: Dezianna Patmon, Soph., INF
The freshman boom in A&T softball last season was spearheaded by Patmon and utility Icess Tresvik, who were near-even in leading the team’s efforts at the plate (Tresvik batted .323, Patmon .322) and giving the Aggie offense needed sparks.
Tresvik transferred in the offseason to Auburn and the Southeastern Conference, however, leaving Patmon as the main youthful A&T asset to watch for the future.
The San Diego native made the Big South All-Freshman team last year, along with Tresvik, after holding a team-best .432 on-base percentage, plus .539 slugging, blasting seven homers and recording 24 RBIs.
With just 24 strikeouts and 21 walks in 115 at-bats, Patmon (who mostly played third base) was able to be one of the most reliable options in an A&T order that was one of the better ones in the Big South, finishing middle of the pack in the league with a .242 team average.
Translating it to the CAA this year will require a jump in Patmon’s game, but as only a sophomore, there’s plenty of time and room for her to grow into her own.
2022: 19-36 (7-20 Big South), no postseason
The lowdown: Like their fellow HBCU in North Carolina A&T, the Pirates have moved from the Big South to the CAA, essentially after a cup of coffee in their old conference, though Hampton stayed a bit longer, having joined the league from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference in 2018.
The Pirates fared a little better in their short time in their old league than the Aggies, though they only got two full seasons in the conference due to the COVID-impacted 2020 season and the fact that Hampton did not field a softball team in 2021.
The program still hasn’t had a winning season since 2017 and never found itself in the running late in the year with the top-tier teams of the Big South.
Monique White was hired as the school’s new coach in September of last year, her first head college coaching gig after spending the past three seasons as an assistant at Georgetown, giving Hampton a new face in the dugout and some fresh perspective, as it enters life in yet another new conference.
What a day, what a day!— Colonial Athletic Association (@CAASports) July 1, 2022
Welcome @HUAthletics1868, @MonmouthHawks, @NCATAGGIES, and @SBAthletics
📰 https://t.co/w8Il40s8os pic.twitter.com/YBcTFftbQl
Name to watch: Janae Lyles, Gr., DP/C
Lyles stuck with the Hampton program, even after it didn’t play in 2021, and her loyalty was rewarded in the form of being the Pirates’ best hitter last season (.335 average).
Now, her role on the Pirates’ roster is going to be that much more important with the departure of first-team All-Big South utility player Kiaya Jeusi.
Lyles – who once had a six-game streak of multiple hits in 2022 – certainly has the ability to be one of the leaders of the Hampton program as it progresses into multiple new eras, both in the coaching ranks and as part of its new conference.
She also has prior experience tearing up CAA competition.
In a three-game stint against Drexel a year ago, Lyles smashed two home runs (of the six she had on the season) and four RBIs. It was one of her best series of the year, indicating she’s likely to handle the jump from the Big South to the CAA just fine.
Stony Brook Seawolves
2022: 31-16 (10-6 America East Conference), no postseason
The lowdown: The most dangerous incoming addition to the CAA softball sphere, Stony Brook had top-3 hitting and pitching units in the America East a year ago, and the Seawolves finished second in the league, though they were ruled ineligible for the conference tournament.
America East controversially banned Stony Brook from its postseason upon the school’s announcement early last year that it was departing the league for the CAA.
Now free from having to deal with such a snafu, the Seawolves will be looking to mark their first CAA season with a bang, and they definitely have the tools at their disposal to do it.
Only Albany had more RBIs in the America East than Stony Brook’s 195, while the Seawolves’ noteworthy 2.40 team ERA ranked second in its old league. The team’s 402 strikeouts would’ve been the most by any rotation in the CAA last year.
Name to watch: Corinne Badger, Sr., C
The America East’s reigning home run queen enters the CAA with the instant distinction of being one of the league’s best sluggers, even before she’s played a game within it.
In one of the nation’s biggest individual one-year jumps, Badger went from essentially an afterthought who batted under .100 in both of her prior college seasons, to a .312 hitter who had 16 home runs and 44 RBIs and slugged a league-best .716. That’s a jump of over .500 from her previous-best single-season mark.
A wicked start to the season (six home runs in her first five games) helped set the stage for Badger’s best year and resulted in her earning an All-America East first-team selection at the season’s end, but a lingering question remains: Can Badger repeat the feat in a new league?
If she does find herself hovering around the top of the league’s homer charts, Stony Brook may have a great first year in its new conference ahead.
2022: 14-33 (4-16 CAA), no postseason
The lowdown: The Tigers lost their first eight games, and things didn’t get much better from there, with the program seeing both its fewest number of wins since 1997 and a last-place finish in the CAA.
If there’s a silver lining for Towson, however, it’s that longtime coach Lisa Costello – who enters her 28th season at the helm this year – has seen a thing or two in charge and definitely has the ability to coach the Tigers back into contention this season.
That has to start with big improvements in the pitching rotation, however.
Towson’s team ERA of 5.65 was, by far, the highest in the league, with the pitchers being tagged for 393 hits in 47 games, or an average of 8.4 hits allowed per game.
Defensive miscues on the team also have room to be cleaned up, as Towson finished with 60 errors and had an overall fielding percentage of .954, the lowest in the conference.
Congratulations to Briana Ramirez, an All-CAA First Team outfielder!— Towson Softball (@Towson_SB) May 11, 2022
📰- https://t.co/DIiE0nlLdD#UnitedWeRoar | #NCAASoftball pic.twitter.com/uj5cBbBv6J
Name to watch: Briana Ramirez, Sr., OF
The biggest bright spot in what mainly was a season to forget for the Tigers, Ramirez shined and broke through to be one of the CAA’s best hitters, even with Towson’s poor record.
The right-fielder from California finished second in the league with a .379 average and became the program’s first All-CAA first-team player since 2019.
Her breakout campaign included 52 hits, after only obtaining a combined three hits in her previous two college seasons.
Perhaps the most important thing for Towson as a whole is that Ramirez, even as many talents of similar level opted to test the waters in the transfer portal this offseason, stayed with the Tigers, despite their down year.
Program history indicates that Ramirez may be correct in sticking around, as Costello hasn’t had three consecutive losing seasons in her tenure since 1996-1998, her first three years in charge.
2022: 24-23 (5-14), no postseason
The lowdown: Drexel’s 2022 season was a bit of a mixed bag.
On one hand, the Dragons had their third consecutive winning season for the first time in program history.
On the other hand, their off-the-pace conference record meant they missed out on a trip to the CAA Tournament a year after winning the North Division.
So, all in all, Drexel softball is in a pretty good place at the moment – but just how good can it really get?
It’ll be a big second year ahead for coach Katie Jansson, as she attempts to develop the Dragons’ program for the long-term, and with the most productive offense in the league a season ago (247 runs scored), she has a great base to build around, too.
The tricky part will be replacing a formerly vital part of that production – Kristi DiMeo, a four-time All-CAA selection and one of the all-time greats of Drexel softball (.398 career average, 53 home runs, 226 RBIs in 205 games) – who closed the show on her epic career last season.
🚨🚨 BREAKING NEWS 🚨🚨— Drexel Softball (@DrexelSoftball) April 28, 2022
Jackie Masone has been named to the @NFCAorg National Division I Freshman of the Year Top 25!!
📰 | https://t.co/wspcv526NA#FearTheDragon pic.twitter.com/9JmUEYM8fX
Name to watch: Jackie Masone, Soph., INF
It’s a tall task to replace a player with as storied of a career as DiMeo, but Masone – who lit up the scene and earned an All-CAA second-team nod during a stellar freshman season – has a lot of promise toward being the next great Dragon on the diamond.
The New Jersey native was the closest to DiMeo in batting average (.364) for the 2022 season, and she finished fourth in the league in the category. Masone had seven homers and 25 RBIs across 40 games.
Masone is bound to be a major piece of the Drexel batting order once again, and paired with returning team home-run leader Ashley Enrico (10 homers, 35 RBIs) could hum along to be one of the most dangerous 1-2 hitting combinations in the conference this season.
2022: 15-37 (7-10), lost in CAA Tournament
The lowdown: Getting to the CAA Tournament was a huge achievement for the Cougars (after going 6-35 overall with an 0-18 league mark in 2021), who improved immensely as the season went along.
Charleston turned a dreadful start into a postseason appearance – even picking up a thrilling extra-inning win over Hofstra in the process, before being eliminated by Elon.
It made the first year of the Tracey Lynch era in the Charleston dugout a little more fun, even if her team still has a long way to go before being consistently competitive in the CAA.
The pitching rotation threw some gems (3.13 team ERA, 231 total strikeouts), but the fact of the matter all year was that the Cougars were largely going to get nowhere being saddled by inadequate output in the batter’s box.
Charleston’s .217 batting average wasn’t just the lowest in the conference, it also ranked among the bottom-15 rates among all Division I softball programs.
Name to watch: Payton Lemire, Sr., P
If Charleston kept pace with an opponent last season, it probably had to do with a great pitching performance keeping the Cougars within arms’ distance.
Lemire was often a big part of those pushes, being one of two members of the Cougars’ staff (along with Carli McCants) to go under a 3.00 ERA on the year. The two teamed up to each throw over 100 innings as reliable options.
Lemire had more appearances overall (team-high 26) and finished with a 2.64 ERA and .230 opposing batting average allowed, but control issues sometimes sprung up, as she had 14 wild pitches and more walks (78) than strikeouts (59).
With McCants not on the 2023 Charleston roster, however, that means Lemire likely is going to be slotted in as the ace, and the pressure on her to perform within the CAA gauntlet will rise.
2022: 30-22 (10-8), lost in CAA Tournament
The lowdown: The Phoenix were moments away from making their first NCAA Tournament appearance since joining the CAA, but they lost to UNC Wilmington in the championship game of the conference tournament. However, a 30-win campaign overall was nothing to be ashamed about.
That number was even more impressive, considering Elon arguably played its best softball in the latter parts of the schedule, and it won 10 of its final 13 games to close out the regular-season slate.
The Phoenix continued that red-hot stretch in the postseason, knocking out No. 1-seeded Delaware in the semis, before bowing down to the Seahawks.
So, a word of advice to the rest of the CAA: don’t let Elon get into a groove.
However, the Phoenix’s epic late run could’ve ended a bit better for coach Kathy Bocock and crew, if the hitting output woke up just a bit more, considering Elon only batted .236 in 2022 – though, as explained below, it wasn’t all their fault.
Ready to hit more dingers this season!#EUSB 🥎 pic.twitter.com/yFZwDvYRZf— Elon Softball (@ElonSoftball) January 20, 2023
Name to watch: Gabi Schaal, Jr., INF
Almost no one in the CAA a year ago was more reliable to drive in a run than the Florida native, who leads the league’s returners this season in RBIs (having a team-best 38 in 2022).
She had 12 multi-RBI outings to build on her All-CAA Rookie team campaign in 2021, with an All-CAA second-team selection the next year.
What’s even more impressive, however, is that Schaal put up those numbers despite missing the season’s final 12 games (including all of Elon’s CAA Tournament run) due to injury, meaning the Phoenix possibly were without their best offensive weapon as they flirted with a trip back to the regional round for the first time since 2010.
With durability concerns hopefully behind her, and the Phoenix gearing up to try and keep the late-season momentum going, Schaal could be poised for a huge year in terms of helping Elon baserunners find home plate.
UNC Wilmington Seahawks
2022: 32-15 (11-8), lost in Clemson Regional
The lowdown: Seahawks, CAA champions.
Those words rang true for the very first time a year ago, as UNCW picked up the first NCAA Tournament berth in program history by winning the conference tournament – and the honors were fully deserved.
The league’s best pitching rotation by almost an entire run (1.85 team ERA), the Seahawks’ dramatic turnaround from being a 15-win team in 2021 to more than double that total and playing in a regional was one of the stories of the year in CAA Softball.
The success was heavily due to a lethal freshman combination on the mound in Emily Winstead and Kara Hammock, who won the CAA Pitcher and Freshman of the Year awards, respectively.
While those two ruled the circle, another freshman, designated player/utility Mackenzie Amodeo, picked up an All-CAA first-team nod outside of it, signaling that the future of Seahawks softball is here and ready to try and push for some sustained dominance.
Name to watch: Kara Hammock, Soph., P
It’s almost not fair to have to choose between Winstead and Hammock, as both are stellar now-sophomore hurlers most softball programs across the country would love to have just one of, let alone both.
But if Winstead was the yin of the Seahawks pitching staff, Hammock was the yang, with the latter being of worthy consideration as the league’s best pitcher in her own right.
Possessing a 12-3 record with a 1.92 ERA across 16 starts, the 6-foot-2 Virginian was a beast right from the first pitch of her college career, throwing 78 strikeouts to just 29 walks in 2022.
The spotlight on her may have been dimmed slightly throughout the season due to the downright dominant performances at times of Winstead (who had 184 strikeouts in just 136 1/3 innings pitched), but teams overlooked Hammock in the process because of that, and they made a grave error.
2022: 21-27 (13-6), lost in CAA Tournament
The lowdown: Hofstra lost its first nine games and didn’t win consecutive matchups until late March. So, how exactly did the Pride recover to have over double the amount of CAA wins to losses?
Short answer: They took charge and won nearly every conference series the rest of the way, including against other CAA heavy-hitters like James Madison, UNCW and Elon.
Long answer: Hofstra’s hitting kicked into gear under first-year coach (and record-setting Pride softball alum) Adrienne Clark, finding itself rejuvenated as soon as the conference schedule came along by batting a league play-best .296 and adding a cutting edge to its game few of its conference comrades seemed to be able to stop.
If that magic with the bats is able to extend into the beginning of the 2023 slate, it could make Hofstra the early-season favorite to take over the new-look CAA – a league the Pride knows exactly how to win as, after all, they’ve won it 11 times since joining for the 2002 season.
E̶l̶o̶n̶̶— Hofstra Softball (@HofstraSoftball) May 2, 2022
D̶r̶e̶x̶e̶l̶#Hofstra came away with its fifth @CAASports series win this past weekend. Catch all the top highlights! 👇#RoarWithPride pic.twitter.com/BvPZWr505j
Name to watch: Meghan Giordano, Gr., INF
Mainly positioned as a third baseman during her first three seasons with the Pride, Giordano made the switch to the team’s starting shortstop role last season and thrived, though her solid .307 average overall wasn’t the main reason she was an All-CAA first-team pick.
Instead, it was more so to do with Giordano’s explosive time tearing up pitching staffs in conference play and being one of the major keys behind the Pride’s late-season revival.
Against CAA competition, Giordano’s average rocketed up to .424, as she picked up five homers and 21 RBIs to go with a .507 on-base percentage and .763 slugging percentage.
She was named the CAA Player of the Week twice in the meantime, while ending the season on a 20-game reached-base streak.
With one year to go in her college career, Giordano will look to be the driving force in getting the Pride back to the top of CAA mountain. They haven’t won a regular-season or tournament crown since 2018, a relative low point in Hofstra softball lore, considering the program’s decorated history in the sport.
Delaware Blue Hens
2022: 29-16 (11-4), lost in CAA Tournament
The lowdown: Delaware’s got a point to prove to itself and the rest of the league, and with a strong program seemingly forming under reigning CAA Coach of the Year Jen Steele, it just might get that point across.
Still, Blue Hens softball over the past few seasons has been a story of near misses.
UD started a program-best 19-4 before COVID-19 shut the door on the 2020 season.
Then, it was a round away from qualifying for the NCAA Tournament in 2021 but lost out to that year’s eventual Women’s College World Series Cinderella team in James Madison.
Finally, in 2022, the Blue Hens were seeded No. 1 coming into the CAA Tournament but were knocked out of the postseason by UNCW and Elon.
With 15 returners on the roster, JMU out of the league and (seemingly) a full season ahead of it, can Delaware finally break through and prove itself to be the undisputed CAA softball team to beat in 2023?
If it does, a trip to the regional round for the first time in program history might be in the cards.
Name to watch: Hanna Garber, Gr., INF
A star in multiple facets of the game, Garber’s value to Delaware as a sort of softball Swiss Army knife unquestionably makes her the main reason why the Blue Hens could be set for a historic year in 2023.
First, and foremost, her defensive capabilities probably are the best of any player in the league, and CAA award selectors certainly thought so, as she was named the conference’s Defensive Player of the Year for 2022, after posting a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage at third base during CAA play. Not bad marks at all for a player who only made the switch to the infield from the outfield just this past year.
Secondly, she’s not a three-time All-CAA pick in her career on defense alone.
Garber led Delaware with a .359 batting average, led the CAA in runs with 48 and even stole 16 bases on top of it, combining lethal offense to her lockdown defense to end up as arguably the most complete player in the conference – and, potentially, the favorite for CAA Player of the Year.
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