EDWARDSVILLE, Ill. – With a plethora of returning starters and a solid number of newcomers, SIUE softball is looking at the 2019 season with renewed confidence.
SIUE begins the season Friday with a pair of games at the Lions Classic II in Hammond, Louisiana. The Cougars face UTSA at 11 a.m. and Prairie View A&M at 1 p.m. on opening day.
Led by Interim Head Coach Jessica Jones, the Cougars have depth at nearly every position as well as new dimensions to both the offense and defense.
"This team has good chemistry which allows their potential to transform into performance," said Jones, who takes over for Hall of Fame Head Coach Sandy Montgomery. "We have zero issues with effort. They are great on the field and in the classroom. They are going to make playing time decisions hard."
SIUE has two returning starting pitchers and one transfer. Emily Ingles led the team last season with 16 wins and 170 strikeouts. The junior right-hander tossed five shutouts, including a no-hitter against Morehead State.
"Having her back is good," Jones said. "She gained a lot of experience. With her spin, she has the ability to keep any team in the country off-balance."
Corrina Rivas collected seven wins in her freshman season, including a perfect game at Tennessee State.
"She is a competitor," noted Jones. "She made a lot of strides over the summer with her spin velocity and her speed. She is looking good and will do great things this year."
Newcomer Bianca Vozenilek joins the Cougars after one season at Rutgers. Jones said having three starters gives her the ability to adjust to the strength and weaknesses of opponents.
"She brings a calm demeanor to the staff and is a great addition to our already strong battery," she added.
Jones also has Jade Kranawetter, a pitcher who is battling back from an injury. Jones indicated Kranawetter will need to make some strides before pitching this season but will see the field.
Behind the pitching staff, SIUE has three returning starters on the infield.
Zoe Schafer, a redshirt junior, led the team last season in batting average (.367), home runs (9), runs batted in (28) and slugging percentage (.717) and was a perfect 1.000 in fielding percentage at first base.
"Zoe is a student of the game," said Jones. "She is clutch. We expect a lot from her from a leadership standpoint. She is one of the top hitters in the conference."
Second baseman Bailley Concatto led the Cougars in hits last season as a freshman with 47.
"Bailley is a spitfire and a competitor," said Jones. "She made her mark on the conference as a freshman and is likely going to continue to stay at the top of the lineup. She is fun to watch."
Alana Cobb-Adams was one of three players who started all 46 games last season. The sophomore shortstop tied for the team lead in triples with three.
"Alana gained a tremendous amount of experience last year," said Jones. "Her confidence grew with her experience. She is all about doing the little thigs right. She continues to prove herself as a middle infielder and offensive threat."
All four can play other positions, including Ofoia who spent the fall season patrolling first base for SIUE.
"Sammie is a force to be reckoned with," said Jones. "She is quick and explosive. She has the ability to hit any pitch out of the park, ball or strike. She swings hard every time and gets the most out of every single cut. Her presence alone is intimidating."
The depth for the Cougars extends to behind the plate with three catchers backstopping the three pitchers.
"We have three very strong options behind the plate," she said, "It will be a battle both offensively and defensively to win this position."
Jones' options in the outfield are many and make for a competitive, eager group.
Alyssa Heren returns for her senior season and needs 52 hits in 2019 collect 200 in her career. Her speed on defense and ability to hit the long ball from the left side of the plate (18 career home runs) makes her a threat every inning of every game.
"Heren has one of the best ranges in the country when it comes to covering the outfield. She is just fun to watch. There isn't a ball in the air that doesn't have the potential to be caught," added Jones.
"We have a lot of depth in the outfield," said Jones. "They are going to win their opportunities to play in practice and will solidify them with their performance in a game. They're going to have to battle."
The Cougars also have a not-so-secret weapon in utility player Janie Smith, a senior. Smith has scored 44 times as a pinch runner in her career and has 39 stolen bases.
"Janie has a very important role in this team. She is definitely one of the biggest base-stealing threats in this conference."