After significant turnover from a season ago, Maryland softball knew it would have to rely on a strong incoming freshman class.
The Terps managed just an 18-37 record in 2018 before losing their top three hitters and their best pitcher. So it appeared the 2019 season would be a rebuilding one.
But with more than half of the season to go, Maryland is six wins away from matching last year’s total. That’s due in large part to its young core, led by freshmen Taylor Okada and Gracie Voulgaris.
As the freshmen prepare for their first-ever home game against UMBC on Thursday in the Maryland Invitational, they’re not feeling the least bit nervous with game experience under their belt and upperclassmen mentorship to guide them.
“Being a freshman and being able to play gives you a lot of confidence,” freshman infielder Regan Kerr said. “It’s also nice to be able to look up to these older girls, and it gives you confidence when you can see you’re doing kind of the same things that they’re doing.”
Kerr, a Phoenix native, has started at shortstop, right field and designated player for Maryland. Against UNC Greensboro, she went 2-for-4 with three RBIs to help her team to a 17-9 win.
Meanwhile, Okada and Voulgaris have become fixtures in the lineup. Okada leads the Terps in batting average at .417, and is first in the entire Big Ten in hits; Voulgaris is second on the team in RBIs while handling Maryland’s pitching staff from behind the plate.
The class’ hard work, Voulgaris said, is already paying dividends.
“It sounds super cliche, but it’s true,” Voulgaris said.
A Lockport, Illinois, native, Voulgaris has provided a solid foundation for the Terps at catcher since the beginning of the year.
With a relatively new pitching staff, Voulgaris has been handling five stylistically different starters — Sydney Golden, Sami Main, Victoria Galvan, Kiana Carr and fellow freshman Amelia Jarecke.
“I’m happy with her growth,” coach Julie Wright said. “She’s such a competitor that she’s happy with what she’s been doing but she wants to be doing better, and I think that’s what makes her fun.”
And Voulgaris doesn’t slack on the offense, either. She’s notched 16 RBIs from the middle of the batting order — a tough ask given that she usually follows infielder Anna Kufta, who has a .390 on-base percentage.
“She’s in a very difficult position as a freshman,” Wright said. “She’s trying to stabilize and hit behind Anna Kufta and provide protection … and it’s just not easy. She’s probably getting some of the toughest pitches.”
Even before she came to Maryland, Voulgaris has primarily focused on making sure her hard work in practice translates to the games — and thus far, her efforts have given Maryland momentum with Big Ten play on the horizon.
And though Okada is the star of the freshman class, Kerr said the team likes to think of themselves as one single unit, rather than singling individuals out.
“Being a young team, everyone is figuring out their thing,” Kerr said. “We’re trying to figure out who we are as a team, but I think that we’re all building that together.”