From Washington University Athletics
The Washington University in St. Louis softball team is ranked No. 8 in the 2016 National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Preseason Division III Top-25 Poll, as announced Wednesday by the organization.
The Bears are ranked in the preseason poll for the third-straight season after appearing at No. 17 in 2014 and No. 21 in 2015.
WashU returns six starters and 13 letterwinners from last year's squad that posted a 33-13 record and qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the 13th time in the last 14 years. The Bears also won their ninth University Athletic Association (UAA) title after finishing in a tie at the 2015 UAA Championship Tournament with an 8-2 mark.
11th-year head coach Leticia Pineda-Boutté returns three all-Midwest Region selections in senior pitcher Annie Pitkin and junior outfielders Hannah Mehrle and Janet Taylor.
Pitkin, a first-team all-UAA and all-Midwest Region selection, was named the 2015 UAA Co-Player of the Year. She posted a 20-8 record with a 1.62 earned run average with nine shutouts and 20 complete games. Pitkin led the UAA and ranked in the top-15 in NCAA Division III in strikeouts (234, sixth), shutouts (ninth) and wins (13th). She posted a 5-1 mark with a save and a 1.45 ERA to earn UAA Championship All-Tournament Team honors.
Mehrle, a second-team all-UAA and third-team all-Midwest Region honoree, batted .396 in 46 starts in the outfield and ranked fourth in the UAA in hits (59), seventh in RBIs (41) and 10th in batting average. She hit safely in 38 of 46 games played, and ranked second in NCAA Division III in toughest to strikeout (1K in 149 AB). Mehrle also had 14 multi-hit and 11 multi-RBI games.
Taylor, a second-team all-UAA and all-Midwest Region selection, made 46 starts in the outfield for the Bears and hit .383 with three homeruns and 43 RBIs. She led the UAA in sacrifice flies (four), and was third in walks (21), fifth in RBIs and 12th in hits (49). Taylor had nine multi-RBI and 12 multi-hit games in 2015, and ranked 16th in NCAA Division III in sacrifice flies.
Junior Kenzie James will join Mehrle and Taylor in the outfield and will take over leadoff duties for the Bears. James batted .342 with 39 runs scored and five RBIs in 43 starts a year ago. She was second in the UAA in sacrifice hits (nine) and third in stolen bases (17-of-17).
Senior first baseman Brooke Hofer will anchor an inexperienced infield as the lone returning starter. Hofer started 45 of 46 games played and hit .311 with six doubles and 21 RBIs. She was second on the team and sixth in the UAA with seven sacrifice hits.
Junior catcher Halle Steinberg started 31 games behind the plate a year ago and hit .111 with three RBIs. Steinberg led the team and was fourth in the UAA in hit-by pitch (five), and threw out 35.3 percent (12-of-34) of base runners.
Sophomore infielder Anna McKee (.234, three homeruns, 11 RBIs) and sophomore infielder Hera Tang (.429, nine RBIs) came on at the end of their freshman seasons, while senior infielder Amanda Kalupa (.222), sophomore outfielder Ashley Madsen (.250, five stolen bases) and sophomore catcher Melinique Walls (.167, four RBIs) add depth.
Pitkin is one of four pitchers that return from a year ago. Sophomores Maggie Clapp (5-2, 2.55 ERA) and Mackenzie Gauden (7-2, 2.28 ERA) combined to start 18 games in their rookie campaigns, while McKee (1-1, 2.86 ERA) also saw time on the mound as a freshman.
Pineda-Boutté added three freshmen who will have an opportunity to make an immediate impact to the program: infielder Taylor Arends, River Forest, Ill. (Oak Park and River Forest); infielder Josi Elder, Marietta, Ga. (North Cobb); utility player Alexa Mendel, Bronx, N.Y. (Fieldston).
Pineda-Boutté has guided WashU to a 316-121-1 (.723) overall record in 10 seasons, including 10-straight seasons of 25 or more wins. She has led the Bears to six UAA titles and nine NCAA Tournament appearances.
WashU opens the season with four games on Saturday-Sunday, Feb. 13-14, at the Rhodes College Classic in Memphis. The Bears will have seven games against teams ranked in the preseason top-25 poll – No. 3 DePauw University, No. 16 Illinois Wesleyan University (twice), No. 18 Emory University (twice) and No. 21 Central College (Iowa) (twice).