WMU Softball Opens at Kajikawa Classic
WMU will play the likes of Oregon and Arizona State in the tournament, both of which begin this season ranked in the top 10. Oregon is ranked sixth in the ESPN.com/USA Softball collegiate preseason top 25 poll and Arizona State is ranked fourth. The Broncos will also play a very tough Kentucky team, which received votes to be in the top 25. The team looks to improve on their single win from last year at the tournament, but record is not necessarily the main focus.
Head Coach Kathy Leitke commented that, "Regardless of the win/loss record of that opening weekend the key is for us to walk away with the experience, ability, and to gain the confidence to play against the top teams in the country."
The difficult schedule does not end after the opening tournament. WMU will face off against No. 13 Michigan on April 2. Last season the Broncos went to Ann Arbor and defeated No. 20 Michigan on it's home field. Western Michigan will also play two other programs that received votes to be in the preseason top 25 including UMASS and Notre Dame.
It will take a lot of hard work and determination but the team is accepting the challenge and looking to make some noise. The Broncos return three seniors this season in Diana Patterson, Colleen Lynch, and Elisha Handshoe. Patterson hit .303 last season with five home runs and 25 RBIs, and will be the primary run producer in the lineup.
Coach Leitke also mentioned junior shortstop Christina Pigozzi and stated that, "Pigozzi is an on the field leader that is key in the program and to our defense."
Pigozzi hit .283 last season as a sophomore and is determined to have an even stronger year this season. "I think our team is going to be pretty good. We've been practicing very hard and working very hard and putting in the work to compete against the top teams in the nation."
The team graduated a group of seniors that were big impact players from the start of their freshman year. This year's freshman class is drawing similar comparisons and will be expected to make an immediate impact. Included in this group are Caity Pixley, Sabrina Gamboa, Loren Nagy, Allyson Kus, Melissa Palmer, and Marleen Rodriguez.
"The freshman class was brought here with a purpose and to be impact players," said Coach Leitke. The team will look upon these freshmen to provide some key leadership, valuable innings, and overall solid play despite being in their first year with the program.
With the departure of Meredith Whitney, WMU will look to find a replacement in the circle. Last season, as a freshman, Becca Shemberger threw 111 innings and will come into this season with the most experience for the Broncos. Mackenzie Shepeck also gained some experience last season and both players are going to need to step up for the team to be competitive. Coach Leitke also mentioned that Patterson and Lynch, both everyday position players, could see some time in the circle.
The Western Michigan softball team will open up play on Feb. 7 against Oregon in the Kajikawa Classic. The team will play in four other tournaments before the home opener on March 19 against IPFW. The first Mid-American Conference series will be on the road against Northern Illinois on March 29-30. Last season the Broncos went 11-9 in conference play advancing to the MAC tournament semi-final game. This season the Broncos look to continue their strong play in the MAC and bring home the program's fourth conference championship.