GREENWOOD, IN – The Manchester University softball team has been selected as the favorite to win the 2014 Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference softball title in a vote of league coaches. The defending champion Spartans claimed 74 total points and two first-place votes in the Coaches' Preseason Poll.
Anderson University placed second in the poll with 73 total points and six first-place votes. Bluffton University finished third in the poll with 58 total points and was followed by Hanover College with 49 points and the final first place vote. Franklin College (48), Transylvania University (35), Defiance College (33), Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology (20), and College of Mount St. Joseph (15) rounded out the poll.
Manchester finished the 2013 season as the conference champions for the first time in school history and will be looking for a second straight title this spring. The Spartans were 22-17 overall and 11-3 in conference play last season. Manchester fell in the HCAC tournament championship game, dropping a 5-1 decision to Anderson.
The Spartans return one All-HCAC first-team member from last season's team. Sophomore catcher Kalie Niezgodski (South Bend, Ind./Clay) returns after earning All-HCAC accolades as a freshman. Niezgodski posted a .410 batting average with a conference-best 11 home runs and a .820 slugging percentage. The South Bend native also led the conference in total bases (82) and ranked among the league leaders in on-base percentage (.483) and RBI (33).
On the mound for Manchester, junior Ashlea Nash (Gas City, Ind./Mississinewa) is the top returning pitcher for the Spartans. Nash finished 10-10 last season with a 4.49 earned run average, while striking out 45 batters in 112.1 innings of work.
Anderson finished second in the league standings last season with a 12-4 record. The Ravens were 31-18 overall after claiming the HCAC tournament and NCAA Division III Angola Regional title. AU ended the season with a pair of losses at the NCAA Division III Championships. The Ravens return two first-team All-HCAC members to the lineup this spring. Junior infielder Yardley Collett (Middletown, Ind./Shenandoah) will look to anchor the Raven offense this spring. Collett hit .375 with eight doubles, five home runs, and 42 RBI as a sophomore. Sophomore pitcher Sami Frazier (Greenfield, Ind./Central) will lead the rotation after earning the HCAC Pitcher of the Year and Freshman of the Year honors a year ago. Frazier finished the 2013 season 12-4 with a HCAC-best 1.44 ERA in 102.0 innings, while adding 80 strikeouts.
Bluffton finished third in the conference race with a 9-5 record. The Beavers were 17-19 overall and lost a pair of contests in the HCAC tournament. Bluffton returns one first-team All-HCAC selection to their lineup. Junior Ariana Muffo (New Athens, Ill./H.S.) will play catcher for the Beavers this spring and hit .400 with 24 runs, 10 doubles, two home runs, and 29 RBI as a sophomore.
The 2014 softball season opens on February 22. The HCAC portion of the schedule will begin on March 22 with the HCAC Tournament slated for May 2-3.
Manchester University Head Coach Tracy Cromer
2014 HCAC Softball Coaches Preseason Poll
|1. Manchester||74 (2)|
|2. Anderson||73 (6)|
|4. Hanover||49 (1)
|9. Mount St. Joseph
2014 Softball Players to Watch
Anderson: Yardley Collett – 1B (Jr., Middletown, Ind./Shenandoah), Sami Frazier – P (So., Greenfield, Ind./Central), Samantha Steele – OF (Jr., Middlebury, Ind./Northridge), Hannah Belvo – P (So., Middletown, Ohio/Preble Shawnee), Nichole Frazier – IF (Jr., Indianapolis, Ind./Franklin Central), Sorcha Cox – IF (Jr., Hagerstown, Ind./H.S.), Katie McCool – OF (So., Lafayette, Ind./McCutcheon)
Bluffton: Chloe Shell – P (Jr., Covington, Ohio/H.S.), Jessica Kuzara – 3B (Jr., Flat Rock, Mich./Huron), Ariana Muffo – C (Jr., New Athens, Ill./H.S.)
Defiance: Macy Ferrall – 3B (Sr., St. Marys, Ohio/Memorial), Alli Rowland – P (So., Westerville, Ohio/H.S.), Kali Campbell – C (Fr., Dundee, Mich./H.S.), Lauren Dicke – P (Jr., Lima, Ohio/Shawnee), Megan Warren – C/SS (Fr., Mason, Ohio/H.S.)
Franklin: Jessica Ayers- SS (Jr., Frankfort, Ind./H.S.), Katie Struewing – 1B/OF (So., Greenwood, Ind./H.S.), Mackensie Vanosdol – P/1B (So., North Vernon, Ind./Jennings Co.), Kayla Craft – P/1B (So., Indianapolis, Ind./Scecina), Emily Whitsett – C (Jr., Beech Grove, Ind./Roncalli)
Hanover: Leah Kemmerer – P (Jr., North Vernon, Ind./Jennings Co.), Dani Merrick – SS (Jr., Eminence, Ind./H.S.), Shelby Overton – OF (Sr., Greenwood, Ind./H.S.)
Manchester: Kylie Planck – 3B (Sr., Valparaiso, Ind./Wheeler), Ashlea Nash – P (Jr., Gas City, Ind./Mississinewa), Emily Willmann – SS (Jr., Montpelier, Ind./Blackford), Kalie Niezgodski – OF/C (So., South Bend, Ind./Clay), Shannon Stephan – OF (Jr., Granger, Ind./Penn)
Mount St. Joseph: Claire Wehby – 3B (So., Mason, Ohio/H.S.), Mallory Wright – OF (Jr., Germantown, Ohio/Valley View), Erica Parker – 1B (Jr., Miamisburg, Ohio/H.S.), Morgan Kain – OF (Fr., Batesville, Ind./H.S.)
Rose-Hulman: Carly Heibel – P/IF (Jr., Ft. Wayne, Ind./Lakewood Park Christian), Allison Bowman – C/3B (Sr., Ft. Wayne, Ind./Snider), Marissa Stout – P/2B (So., Terre Haute, Ind./South), Jenna Martinek – 2B/3B (Sr., Troy, Mo./Buchanan), Jess Ahlborn – OF/SS (Jr., Houghton, Mich./H.S.)
Transylvania: Alyssa Oakley – 1B (Jr., Lexington, Ky./Lafayette), Chelsea Meiners – OF (Sr., Louisville, Ky./Mercy), Katie Hulsman – P (So., Cincinnati, Ohio/St. Ursula), Jamie Lutes – P (So., Mt. Washington, Ky./Bullitt East), Cassie Hamilton – C (Jr., Sparta, Ky./Ryle)