Photo courtesy of Georgia Tech Athletic Communications

After a long offseason ruminating over the adversity of their preseason, Jacket softball is back and ready to take the field as they anxiously look to improve on last year’s woeful record of 16-34. Their first game is less than a week away, an away game against the Panthers of Georgia State. Tech, seeking to avenge last year’s one-run, 7-6 loss to the Panthers, will be trying to come out swinging as they make their 2016 debut.

With five freshmen and five sophomores on the sixteen women roster, the Jackets will be fielding an incredibly young squad that will have to get accustomed to the collegiate level of play quickly in order for the Jackets to be successful. The remaining six upperclassmen will look to lead this team of youngbloods through what looks to be a daunting season. Senior second basemen Maddie Lionberger, along with junior centerfielder Samantha Pierannunzi, are among the team’s returning players. Lionberger, through her first three seasons, has batted .289 and has started in 97 straight games. Pierannunzi, starting all 50 games last season, led the team with a batting average of .306 and 17 home runs. In addition to Lionberger and Pierannunzi, sophomore Kelsey Chisholm and senior Courtney Ziese will likely be the heart of the Jacket’s batting order. Of the returning starters, these four players were responsible for 73 percent of all Tech’s RBIs last season. Expect to see improvements in offensive production from Chisholm as well as senior Morgan Taylor. Taylor, a leftfielder, started every game as a freshman and batted .231 with 25 RBI but saw an unexpected decrease in playing time during her sophomore and junior seasons. Now, as a senior, Taylor is ready to match, and potentially surpass, the numbers she produced as a freshman.

This year’s incoming class has significant potential, and their presence could be a difference maker in many key games. Both Sydney Stavro and Jordan Deep are graduates of Buford High School, where they won four consecutive state championships. Stavro, the 2014 Georgia Dugout Club Class AAAA Player of the Year and the Gwinnett County Diamond Club’s Offensive Player of the Year, had a sensational senior year in high school. She led the team with a batting average of .496, on-base percentage of .556, and in stolen bases with 43. Other freshmen include catcher Kaylee Ellebracht, firstbasemen/outfielder Katie Krzus, and pitcher Jenna Goodrich.

Although a good offensive is crucial in order to be successful, fielding is the category in which Tech most needs improvement. During the 2015 season, the Jackets lost all but one game in which their opponent scored more than five runs. With that in mind, Tech’s pitching staff must do their best to limit their opponents below that level. Out of fifty games last year, Tech allowed its opponent to score five or more runs 21 times. This number must go down. However, the team roster lists only two pitchers, Emily Anderson, the sophomore right-hander, and freshman Jenna Goodrich, who is also a right-hander. It will be interesting to track how the young teammates will shoulder the load of making life easier for the Tech fielders while setting up the offense for success as games go on.

For a team faced with the combination of offensive potential and defensive uncertainties, this year’s schedule pits the Jackets against some interesting opponents in a lot of games that could go either way. From games against powerhouses such as UGA, Ohio State and NC State to games against smaller schools like Southern Utah and Long Island University Brooklyn, the Jackets will face a variety of playing styles, the sort of competition that will prepare them for a diverse array of opponents and a potential postseason to come.

For better or worse, Tech has plenty to take care of before it can start thinking about a postseason appearance. For a team as young as theirs, they must simply take one game at time and see where they end up. That journey begins Wednesday, Feb. 17, at Georgia State.