Last Friday afternoon, Terrapins softball coach Julie Wright gathered her players near the home dugout of Maryland Softball Stadium and reminded them of the team’s mission: Be aggressive, play for each other and give the program an identity.
“They’re going to have to leave a legacy for all of the other teams that come up through our program,” said Wright, who this university hired last July. “It’s really important that they understand that responsibility and take it seriously.”
Wright is the team’s third coach in three years and is tasked with bringing stability back to the team. To achieve this, she said she will lean on her experience at Idaho State, where she transformed a sputtering program into a three-time Big Sky champion. She was also the third coach in three years with the Bengals.
“The formula for me is not foreign,” Wright said.
The rookie coach inherits a program that took a step forward in its first year in the Big Ten last season, accumulating a 27-27 record after going 11-35 the year before. Wright wants to continue the upward trend while molding the team into something more frenetic and eye-catching than it was before.
“You’re going to see an exciting team to watch,” Wright said. “We connect with fans; we have a good time playing the game; we enjoy each other.”
The Terps’ central focus this season is aggressive baserunning, which channels the energy that Wright instills in her team.
“I tell them all the time that we are not a fast team,” Wright said, “but we are going to play aggressive and we are going to force mistakes. That has been something we work on every single day.”
“It’s about paying attention to detail and taking that extra base when you can,” said senior leader and shortstop Lindsey Schmeiser.
Outfielder Sarah Calta, though, is fast enough to take full advantage of Wright’s baserunning plans, and the coach said the junior is set to have a break out season. Calta was often used as a pinch runner last year, stealing nine bases despite recording only 45 at-bats. Now she will be expected to contribute as a full-time starter, combining her baserunning talent with her developing hitting ability.
Calta is just one piece of a Terps offense that set program records in doubles, home runs, RBIs and walks last season. Joining her in the outfield is junior Kylie Datil and a rotation of sophomores Destiney Henderson and Emma Mires, and junior utility player Hannah Dewey.
“I have been most pleased with the progression of the outfield this offseason,” Wright said. “They have all improved their range, arm strength and jumps on the ball. I am very excited to watch them play this season.”
The Terps’ biggest strength might be in the middle infield, where Lindsey Schmeiser and Corey Schwartz form a dynamic offensive duo. Schmeiser, a member of last season’s All-Big Ten first team, hit .369 with 12 home runs a year ago, while Schwartz led the team with 15 home runs.
Skylynne Ellazar will start at third base in place of Juli Strange, who will miss the season with an ACL injury. Ellazar played shortstop last season, but worked hard in the fall to make the transition to third base.
First base remains an open competition between several players, Wright said.
“[Sarah] Lang, Jordan [Aughinbaugh], and Jacqui [Pascual] are all pushing each other, and I also expect two of our pitchers, Hannah [Dewey] and Madison [Martin], to get time there as well,” Wright said.
Behind the plate, transfer Kristina Dillard will take over catching duties. The Hanover native played her first two collegiate seasons at Louisville.
The pitching staff is an uncertain area for the Terps after the graduations of star pitcher Kaitlyn Schmeiser and reliable two-way catcher Shannon Bustillos. Wright expects the trio of Brenna Nation, Hannah Dewey and Madison Martin to perform well, though.
“Our pitching staff will pitch to contact and keep us in ballgames and do exactly what we need them to do,” Wright said.
With a mix of experienced talent and young players along with a new coaching staff, getting the team on the same page has been important process. Wright held a retreat and has implemented a buddy system, which matches teammates together weekly to hang out and get to know one another better.
“I think [the team-building activities have been] huge because I think that’s big for team chemistry, and that’s been a big emphasis this year,” Schmeiser said.
The Terps face a daunting nonconference schedule, including early season matchups against No. 5 Alabama and No. 6 Oregon.
“Our schedule is insane, and I like it that way,” Wright said. “Our game plan is to play our new style of ball, our new identity, and just stay right there.”
After a 2015 campaign that ended short of the playoffs, the Terps hope their new style can help bring them to success.
“We’re here because we love the game,” Schmeiser said. “It’s fun to feel that again.”