Ranked No. 10 nationally, picked to win the NSIC, with senior Mary Pardo tabbed as NSIC Preseason Player of the Year, and looking to return to nationals in Denver for the third straight season, the Augustana softball team is ready to take the diamond again this spring.
The Vikings currently sit at 4-3 after a week against some of the best competition in the country down in the Lone Star State.
“I purposefully do that, we have never shied away from tough competition,” coach Gretta Melsted said. “We will not see that quality of teams in one weekend until the end of the season. I think our team needs to be reminded of where they have to be to be there at the end.”
The Vikings played four games against ranked opponents, splitting those games 2-2, while going 3-1 the rest of the week. Melsted said the team dealt with multiple injuries during their trip and will take the next few weeks to get back to 100%.
This year’s team brings back a plethora of experience, only losing one player from last season. However, that one player happens to be the NCAA Woman of the Year in Kendall Cornick. The NSIC Woman of the Year started 54 games for the Vikings in right field last season and was a mainstay in the middle of the lineup for Melsted’s team.
“I don’t think you can replace a Kendall Cornick,” Melsted said. “We’re not just trying to say ‘Well, you’re Kendall’s replacement!’ We have to collectively replace those numbers and stats.”
Numbers in the box shouldn’t be an issue with this team. Returning players include a pair of 2021 All-Americans in Pardo and junior Torri Chute, along with seniors Abbie Lund, Abby Lien, Amanda Dickmeyer and Delaney Young. The six played and started in all 57 games last season.
“We were left with eight people in the line-up with scary good bats,” Pardo said. “We return a lot of experience that knows what it takes to go far, and everyone is giving 100% every day so we can achieve that goal of going back to the tournament and winning.”
Chute earned All-American honors after hitting .410 with 10 home runs and a team-high 66 RBIs. Pardo led the team with 20 home runs last season while hitting .330.
“I think this year the 1-9 hitters have to focus on stringing hits together and getting runs blue collar,” Young said. “Kendall was a big bat that is hard to replace.”
Through their first seven games, the team is hitting a combined .324 with two home runs and 34 runs scored. Leading the way is Chute, hitting .381 with two extra base hits and two RBIs. Right behind is sophomore Kennedy Buckman, hitting .364 and tied with Young for a team-high seven RBIs.
“It is still early to tell, but I think Kennedy Buckman has really stepped up this year,” Young said. “She had an amazing week in Texas, and I’m excited to see how she does this season.”
In the circle, the Vikings return every inning from last season. Second-team All-American Ashley Mickschl returns to lead a staff of experienced collegiate pitchers. Playing 1B to Mickschl’s 1A is senior Amber Elliott.
Elliott ended last season with a 2.28 ERA and 136 strikeouts in 141.1 innings. The First Team All-NSIC selection started the 2022 right where she left off. In four starts, she holds a 2-0 record in 14 innings of work with 15 strikeouts and a 1.50 ERA.
“We played a lot of good teams in Texas,” Elliot said. “Going 4-3 really showed our team what we needed to improve on, and now we have the tools to build on our athletic ability.”
The Vikings will head down to Missouri for a doubleheader against Northwest Missouri State on March 5, before taking the trip to Florida over spring break for 10 games in six days. They will then return to Missouri for a weekend of six games from March 18-20, before starting NSIC play.
“I think they’re just an exciting crew,” Melsted said. “They’re working hard, they’re fun to be around and we’ll see how it goes. They will do well, we just need to get healthy, that’s the key.”
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