COLLEGE PARK, Md. -- The Maryland softball team will kick off its 2018 season this weekend at the Stacy Winsberg Memorial Tournament on the campus of UCLA. Maryland 18-player roster is spilt down the middle between returning players and newcomers, giving this year’s squad a fresh look for 2018. The Terps will play in six non-conference tournaments before starting Big Ten play at the end of March, as the program looks to make its return to the conference tourney and beyond.
Head Coach Julie Wright will lead the Terps in her third season at the helm, while being supported by a pair of new assistant coaches in Tori Tyson (pitching) and Victoria Hayward (hitting). Below is look at each position group for the upcoming year.
Maryland’s infield will have a new look this season with the graduation of Juli Strange (third base) and Jordan Aughinbaugh (first base) from last year’s squad. In addition, sophomore Anna Kufta will move to a primarily role behind the plate this season, after spending a majority of last year at third base and shortstop.
Returning to lead the infield will be senior captain Skylynne Ellazar, who has started every game she has played over the past two years for the Terps. Ellazar spent the end of last season at second base, and enters 2018 with No. 2 career batting average (.341) all-time at UMD.
“She has a fabulous passion for the game, and has learned so much from her international experience this past summer and winter," said Wright. "She has translated that to the field and to her teammates. It’s been really fun to watch her and Mikayla work together and grow in the middle infield."
Junior transfer Mikayla Werahiko will see time at shortstop of the Terps early this season, after a successful two-year stint at Florida Southwestern State College in Fort Myers, Fla. Werahiko is a two-time Suncoast Conference First Team honoree, and helped lead FSW to its first-ever FCSAA State Championship and second consecutive berth to the NJCAA Division I Softball Championship last season.
Wright will have a handful of options at first and third including sophomore Brigette Nordberg, who Wright believes will emerge as a strong corner player in the coming year. Nordberg saw action in 18 games last season, mostly at first base, while posting a .263 average. Wright has also been impressed with the offseason of senior Jacqui Pascual, who, “has made really great progress under our new hitting coach [Victoria Hayward]. So I’m super excited about her particularly on the offensive side of the ball.”
Wright also believes that junior transfer Bailey Boyd has done some great work at the corner spots throughout the preseason, and will be a key piece to the team’s infield rotation. Boyd will play her first season at Maryland after transferring from Towson, where she appeared in 55 career games while making 45 starts. The Silver Spring Md. had her most productive season as a freshman, where she was the CAA Rookie of the Week honors twice in consecutive weeks (March 14 & 21).
Three freshmen will be in line to make their collegiate debuts in the infield in Hannah Eslick, Taylor Wilson and Sammie Stefan and Wright has been pleased with all three and their progress throughout the offseason.
Eslick is from Glen Burnie, Md. where she was a four-time First Team Washington Post and Baltimore Sun All-Met performer at Glen Burnie High School and played her club ball with the Lady Orioles. Wilson comes to College Park locally from Clinton, Md. where she was a four-time Washington Catholic Athletic Conference selection at Bishop McNamara. She was also an All-Prince George's County honoree and played club ball for Wagner’s Gold. Stefan is a native of LaGrange, Ohio, where she was a two-time All-American at Keystone High School. Stefan a two-time First Team All-Ohio selection, and was named Miss Softball Lorian County in 2017.
Brashear led the Terps in hitting last year while starting all 51 games in the outfield, primarily in left. She ranked first on the team in batting average (.304), hits (52), sac bunts (6), at bats (171), and total plate appearances (184) and had 15 multi-hit games in 2017. Wright describes her as a, “very hard worker, who had a great offseason adding skills to her repertoire.”
Cross garnered a reputation for her defense in the outfield in her first collegiate season, making several diving plays in center throughout her freshman campaign. Cross ranked second on team in on base percentage in 2017 (.364), and Wright is looking forward to a bigger offensive year from the Owings, Md. native in the coming year.
Henderson will lead the outfield group in 2018 as a senior captain in her final season with the Terps. The Fontana, Calif native has made 92 career starts, including 39 of 48 games played last season, and is a career .252 batter. She is one of the team’s speediest options on the base paths, finishing tied for first on team in stolen bases (4) and steal attempts and tied for second in sac bunts (5) last season.
Freshmen JoJo McRae and Shelby Younkin will also see time in the outfield rotation as they get set to make their college debuts in 2018. Wright describes McRae as a speed player who been doing a lot of work in the offseason to become a consistent defender, and has seen great improvements on both sides of the ball. The Lucas, Texas native finished as a three-time All-American at Lovejoy High School and broke school records in career batting average (.616) and stolen bases (131), while also earning First Team All-State and All-Region honors.
Wright believes Younkin will see time in the outfield while also serving as the team’s backup catcher. She comes to Maryland from Torrance, Calif. where she was a two-time Coliseum League and All-Pioneer League selection at South Torrance High School, while playing her club ball with the Corona Angels.
All four pitchers on staff will be vital to Maryland’s success in the circle this season, with each pitcher bringing something different to the table for the Terps in 2018. The graduation of Madison Martin and Hannah Dewey, who accounted for 84% of innings pitched last season, has the position primed with opportunity for this year’s staff.
“The four of them will pitch as a staff quite a bit,” said Wright. “We might see a 1-2 emerge at some point, but I think we’ll be doing a lot of staff pitching. What I really like is that they seem to be on board with that and supportive of each other. They’re really trying to go out and set the tone for us so that the defense can play behind them so I’ve been pleased with that.”
Junior transfer Sydney Golden will captain the pitching staff this season after spending two seasons at Cal State Fullerton, where she was named the 2016 Big West Conference Freshman Pitcher of the Year. Golden saw 80.0 innings of work this past season, winning seven times while notching 48 strikeouts and a 2.98 ERA. Golden helped lead the Titans to two straight NCAA Regional appearances and two Big West Conference Championships during her time in Fullerton, and was an understudy of new Terrapin pitching coach Tori Tyson.
“Sydney Golden is our transfer from Fullerton who has a ton of postseason experience, said Wright. “I really like the way she approaches the game because she approaches it to win every pitch. She doesn’t take pitches off that way. I appreciate that and her competitive spirit.”
Freshman Ryan Denhart will also make an impact in her first year at Maryland, after finishing last season as an All-American at Los Alamitos High School. She was the 2017 Sunset League Pitcher of the Year & Press Telegram Player of the Year and helped lead team to 2017 CIF National Championship, State Championship and Division 1 Championship.
“I’m excited to see freshman Ryan Denhart. She has been performing well and flourishing under coach Tyson,” said Wright. “I’ve been very pleased watching her work to become a better pitcher and understand what to takes to win at this level.”
Returners Lauren Graves and Sami Main will also factor into the rotation throughout the year, after both saw action in the mound in 2017. Graves made 19 appearances last year, and Wright is excited with the progress the White Hall, Ark. native has made under coach Tyson. Wright is also a fan of what Main has done on the mound throughout the offseason, and is encouraged seeing her role expand after playing in 11 games last year.
Sophomore team captain Anna Kufta will take the majority of reps at catcher with the graduation of Kristina Dillard, and is primed for a big sophomore campaign. Last season Kufta ranked first on the team in slugging percentage (.484), RBIs (26), home runs (6), triples (4), total bases (77) and second in runs scored (24).