Photo by John Nakano

Tech softball’s 2017 schedule was announced in December and the 55 game season begins this week with the Puerto Rico Tournament. The Puerto Rico Tournament will be the first time the Jackets have competed outside of the United States. They will have their first conference competition against North Carolina, ranked fifth in the ACC, at the tournament. With a 7-16 conference record last year, the jackets are hoping to start the season off on a higher note.

The fact that Tech had a difficult time competing far away from home last season leaves good reason to be concerned that the Jackets will not fare well in similar situations this season. However, Tech has more games at home this season than they did last year and has welcomed lots of new talent to the lineup. With 10 incoming freshmen ready to take the field and only three seniors lost to graduation, a talented lineup that supports each other on the field could quickly erase any jitters in unfriendly confines.

The loss of Courtney Ziese to graduation will be a big one. Ziese led the team in average hits, home runs, and runs batted in last year. However, there is enough new talent this year that any empty niches should be filled. Seven of the ten incoming freshmen were four-year letter winners during their high school careers and are looking forward to carrying on their success at the collegiate level.

Freshman Crosby Huckabay is bound to make consistent appearances on the field this season. Huckabay’s four-year starting role during her high school softball career offers hope that she will be an asset on the field from the first game onwards. During her senior season, she was named to all-region and all-state teams. Her 74 RBI senior season record eclipses Ziese’s 33 RBI record last season, albeit at a lower level of competition. With 11 doubles, 46 runs, and a record breaking 19 home runs on top of an amazing RBI record; Huckabay seems well on her way to being an offensive superstar at Tech.

Another all-region and all-state athlete, Grason Gasser will be an athlete for fans to keep an eye on this season. During her high school career, Gasser helped her team to four district championships in a row. A valedictorian on top of her athletic career, Gasser is an athlete that seems to live up to the Tech mold of excellence.

Witnessing freshmen debut seasons is not the end of the excitement for Tech fans. Returning talent has just as much in store this season. If senior Samantha Pierannunzi improves this season at the same rate as last year, she will be invaluable on the field. Since her freshman year at Tech, Pierannunzi has made progress every season and consequently seen increasing time on the field. While starting in all 55 games of the season, she led the team for the second season in a row with 29 runs. Pierannunzi also led the team with 29 walks and 15 stolen bases last season.

Pierannunzi is not the only senior that proved herself capable of being a team leader early on in her collegiate careers. Fellow senior Jessica Kowalewicz has also illustrated similar abilities throughout her first three years for the Jackets. Also starting in every match-up last season, Kowalewicz recorded season highs in runs, hits, doubles, home runs, and RBI. She ended the season with a three-game hitting streak and has left fans excited to see what is in store for next season.

Colleen Darragh is another senior that has improved over her career on the field for Tech softball. Each season has seen improvements from Darragh. Last season she played in 49 games and recorded career and season
bests in hits.

A well-mixed line up of experienced and new talent, could make all the difference this season. It has been five years since the Jackets ended a season with a successful overall record. Although the team will play more than half of their slate at home this season, it is going to take more than a home advantage for Tech to earn a spot at the ACC Championship at Chapel Hill in May.

Tech ended last season at No. 10 in the ACC, only better than the NC State Wolfpack. They faced issues with consistency and road games, but Head Coach Shelly Hoerner has enough talent for that to change in the Jackets’ 2017 campaign.

Coach Hoerner also welcomed two new coaches in the offseason. Sage Woodham and Rodney DeLong were added to the staff as assistants, the former finishing a stint at Southern Arkansas and the latter the head coach Cameron University (Okla.).

Woodham and DeLong, in combination with new talent and improvement from returning starters, could push the Jackets back into the NCAA Regionals and national stage for the first time since the team’s excellent 2011-2012 campaign.