BELLEVUE, Neb. -- Coming off the second 50-win season in program history the Bellevue University softball team looks to reach the NAIA National Tournament for a 10th time in 2018.
BU, who is receiving votes in the Preseason NAIA Coaches' Top 25 Poll, returns a total of 12 letter-winners and seven starters off last year's squad that reached the NAIA National Tournament for the ninth time in school history.
The 2017 club won a program-record 20 conference games en route to their first NSAA Regular-Season Championship. Last month BU was picked second in the nine-team league, behind only tournament-champion Jamestown.
Six-time conference Coach of the Year (2x-NSAA, 4x-MCAC) Michala Cimino, with a 311-130-1 career record at BU, returns for her eighth season as the Bruins head coach along with longtime assistant Kelly Cheshier. Jeanne Scarpello, Aimee Supanchick, and Kelli Fisher round out the coaching staff.
Coach Cimino will look for a different formula to win games in 2018. "In the past," Cimino said, "we have heavily relied on our pitchers to keep us in all our games; however, in order for us to be successful this season we will need a lot of run production for our offense."
The team seems well-equipped to handle that undertaking as NAIA and NFCA All-American Erin Sharpe leads an experienced, and tested, group of returners. Sharpe, who pitches and plays third, was a nightmare for opposing pitchers last season as she rewrote the BU Recordbook by bashing an NAIA-leading 28 home runs. She also ranked in the top 10 nationally in several other categories, including; second in slugging percentage (.950), seventh with 79 RBI, and 10th with 85 hits.
Sharpe will also be counted on to be a key part of the BU pitching staff in 2018. She tossed two no-hitters – including a perfect game against Jamestown in the NSAA Championship Series – while going 12-2 with a 1.09 ERA and a 66-10 strikeout to walk ratio last season.
Lexi LeCalsey also returns in the circle for the Bruins after posting an 8-5 mark with a 2.29 ERA in her first season in purple and gold. She struck out 71 batters in 85.2 innings of work last season and should see an increased workload this year.
Completing the battery with the pitching staff will be backstop Sayde Woten (.243 AVG, 11 XBH, 20 RBI) who has appeared in all but 18 games through her first three seasons on campus.
Other starters returning include a pair of seniors in shortstop Emily Gigax (.240 AVG, 14 XBH, 29 RBI) and first baseman Alex Tooley (.289 AVG, 13 XBH, 23 RBI). They'll be joined by junior Maddie Siedlik (.263 AVG, 17 XBH, 37 RBI) and sophomore Kaitlyn Kinman (.270 AVG, 11 XBH, 22 RBI) who both saw extensive action at multiple positions a year ago.
Also returning are 2016 All-NSAA outfielder Sarah Zeleny (5-6 SB, 21 Runs), right-hander Myah Boehnke (5 APP), utility players Kayla Lehigh (.353 OBP, .429 SLG) and Michaela Miller (.258 AVG, 11 HR, 22 RBI), and catcher/infielder Randi Henry (.395 OBP, .353 SLG).
Additionally, the Bruins will also welcome Kayla Young (.248 AVG, 10 XBH, 26 RBI) back in the fold – injury caused her to miss the 2017 season – for the first time since the 2016 season.
Bellevue also welcomes four newcomers to the roster in catcher/outfielder Emily Mendick (La Vista, Neb./Gross HS), Grace Glotfelty (Bellevue, Neb./Bellevue West HS), Maricela Egan (Anaheim, Calif./Savanna HS), and pitcher/infielder Emily Rochford (Waterloo, Neb./Concordia HS).
The Bruins biggest strength, according to Cimino, "will be our six seniors who, for the most part, will be our regulars. We should get a good feel for where we stand on opening weekend. We believe we should be able to hold our own as the competition is pretty evenly matched."
Bellevue opens the 2018 season on Friday-Saturday, Feb. 9-10 with five games at the Cowtown Classic in Fort Worth, Texas.