After an undefeated fall season and an offseason focused on raw competition, the Ohio State softball team is looking to build upon the momentum when it opens its season Friday.
The Buckeyes, who went 30-22 in 2015, fell to Nebraska in the quarterfinals of the Big Ten tournament, but the loss has only pushed the team to avoid a repeat outcome. Coach Kelly Kovach Schoenly has seen the spark throughout the preseason practices.
“Now the competition is within the team to just get on the field,” she said. “And that’s a very strong practice atmosphere to have.”
Jesse Machovina, a redshirt junior, took this challenge with intensity after recovering from an injury last season that resulted in her not seeing any action.
“My personal goal is to earn another starting spot after being out for a while,” the utility player said. “Anything to help out the team.”
The cooperative team spirit drove Machovina, who said she is feeling close to 100 percent, in the offseason.
“Last year, I got to cheer everybody on, but it’s exciting to be back on the field,” she said.
The Buckeyes are led by four seniors after graduating their entire outfield last year. With these positions vacant, Schoenly moved players around, including sophomore outfielder Taylor White, who played mostly catcher and left field in 2015.
“We needed somebody who could be the leader, and she stepped in and took over center field,” Schoenly said. “It’s one of those positions where you need to take control, and she is owning it.”
Offensively, the improvements from sophomore infielders Ashley Goodwin and Cassidy Clough have made impressions on Schoenly. At the plate in 2015, first baseman Erika Leonard and shortstop Maddy McIntyre led the Buckeyes, but Schoenly said she has witnessed promise from more than the two redshirt senior leaders.
“We have some other players who did well in the fall and are still doing well now, so I don’t want to slight them,” Schoenly said.
Five pitchers equip the Buckeyes with versatility and stamina on the mound, which is exciting to the coaches and players.
“Our pitching staff is doing really well,” Machovina said. “I am ready to see what they are going to do.”
Junior Shelby Hursh, who was 7-4 in 2015, is the only returning pitcher for OSU. Sophomore Shelby McCombs and junior Lena Springer transferred from Louisville and Central Florida, respectively, while freshmen Katya Duvall and Morgan Ray round out the rotation.
OSU has a strong presence from freshmen this season, and outfielder Brianna Betschel is excited to learn from the older players.
“I’ve learned that we have a great group of upperclassmen who are leaders, and they show us how to do things the right way,” the freshman said. “I know my coaches and teammates will help me to become the player I hope to be.”
Along with Betschel, the rest of the team has high hopes for the upcoming season and is looking to build on strong forces from all aspects of the roster.
“We are looking pretty good, so our ultimate team goal is to make it to regionals,” Machovina said. “And I think we have a really good shot.”
OSU’s journey to regionals is set to begin Friday in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where the team is slated to participate in the LSU Tournament.
The Buckeyes are scheduled to play four games over two days. The first matchup on the docket is against the University of the Pacific. First pitch is set for 10:30 a.m.