Depth Will Be On Display This Spring
Pencil was advisable for those keeping a scorebook during the 2021 Oregon softball season, and it will be the implement of choice again in 2022.
The No. 18 Ducks open their new season Thursday against Ole Miss in Fullerton, Calif. Whatever lineup head coach Melyssa Lombardi employs in that game, scheduled to start at 5:30 p.m., shuffling could be in store as soon as Friday when Oregon opens play against Cal State Northridge in a tournament hosted by UCLA.
A year ago, the UO softball team played 57 games and used a unique starting lineup in 50 of them. This year, Lombardi's options could be even more plentiful.
"This is the deepest we've been since I've been here," Oregon's fourth-year head coach said.
The Ducks were destined to look different in 2022 regardless, after the graduation of Haley Cruse and Shaye Bowden, and the transfers of Alyssa Brito and Mya Felder. Jasmine Williams (neé Sievers) is back with the Ducks after the birth of her child, Oregon welcomed in transfers Karissa Ornelas and KK Humphreys, and several freshman already have asserted themselves — in the field, in the batter's box and in the circle.
Gone are four of the eight hitters who started at least 36 games last spring. On hand is a roster of nearly two dozen Ducks, all of whom could be impact players in one role or another this season.
"Our team's gonna look different this year compared to our last three years," Lombardi said.
Around the infield, Allee Bunker is back after starting every game in 2021, and hitting .342. Rachel Cid also was a 51-game starter in 2021, and Williams was Oregon's full-time shortstop in 2019 and 2020 before her maternity break. But scrappy freshman Paige Sinicki plays with a competitive fire that could earn her at-bats, and the Ducks will have a new face at first base after using Bowden and Felder there a year ago.
If a regular on the infield takes a day off, she knows her replacement will be up to the task of playing at a high level.
"It's been really exciting to see this transformation," Bunker said.
Hanna Delgado leads the returners in the outfield, where Cruse was such a dependable presence in recent years. Ariel Carlson is looking to build on a monster fall, and Hannah Galey provides a veteran presence. Sisters Kai Luschar and Kedre Luschar will make up for the speed Cruse brought both in the field and to the lineup.
At catcher, Terra McGowan got the bulk of the starts in 2021, backed up by Vallery Wong. Both are back this season, but the Ducks also added Ornelas as a transfer, and freshman Abby Mulvey.
"As much as we talk about a pitching staff," McGowan said, "I think we finally have a catching staff, too, which is awesome."
Brooke Yanez returns as the ace of Oregon's staff, and one of the elite starters in college softball. She's joined on the staff by fellow lefty Jordan Dail and a quartet of young right-handers: junior Makenna Kliethermes, sophomore Raegan Breedlove, and freshmen Stevie Hansen and Allison Benning.
Those options will allow Lombardi to match up her pitchers with opposing hitters in more strategic fashion this spring.
"It's really different, but in a good way," said Yanez, who threw nearly half of Oregon innings in 2021 — 182.1 out of 373. "Every game we're going to have options."
It was just three years ago the Ducks used Dail in the circle and nine position players for the vast majority of the 2019 season. But those days are long gone. And Oregon's improved depth won't only be a factor in games, Lombardi said.
"Every single day these guys go to practice, there's major competition at every spot," she said. "That's what I've seen more than anything — there's such a push, every single day, from the pressure and competitiveness that's been applied in practice."
On Thursday, the Ducks will start using their depth to put pressure on opposing teams. Just make sure you're keeping track of the lineup in pencil.
"It's going to take all of us this season," Yanez said. "So I'm really excited."