After opening the 2019 season on the road for its first five weekends, Maryland softball finally played in front of a home crowd March 14. And during the tournament, with matchups against UMBC, Rhode Island, Bryant and Villanova, the Terps went undefeated, propelling them to their best home start since 2015.
It was a preamble to the team’s true test. Maryland started off Big Ten play just a week later, getting swept by Minnesota. The opening weekend was a harbinger for the rest of the campaign, in which coach Julie Wright’s squad won just four Big Ten games.
Ending the season on an eight-game losing streak, Maryland (20-31, 4-19) fell short of reaching the Big Ten Tournament and finished last in the conference. With ten new faces this season, though, the Terps surpassed last season’s win total and are optimistic about the young talent returning for next season.
“The consistency piece is something that we need to sure up,” Wright said. “You’ll see that a lot with young players. … That will be something that we work hard on in the offseason.”
Maryland started its season with a burst of optimism, catalyzed by its explosive offense and leadoff hitter Taylor Okada. The freshman held the top batting average for the team in the first third of the season, giving life to a Terps’ offense that had lost Skylynne Ellazar — its lone hitter batting above .300 in 2018 — to graduation.
[Read more: Maryland softball ends its season with 12-3 loss and series sweep to Michigan]
But Okada, who was batting .426, suffered a knee injury March 15 against Bryant and underwent season-ending surgery soon after.
“The injury bug found us,” Wright said, “and it derailed us just a little bit. That’s what happens when you don’t have depth.”
So, without the Terps’ top hitter in the lineup, JoJo McRae slotted in at leadoff. The center fielder had previously batted near the bottom of the order, but Wright used the sophomore in the leadoff spot, sensing her speed and knack to find ways on base would translate well in the new role.
By the end of the season, McRae was hitting .317 and scored 34 total runs, both team-highs. Three out of Maryland’s top four hitters were underclassmen: McRae, catcher Gracie Voulgaris and infielder Sammie Stefan. And with Okada returning in the fall, according to Wright, the Maryland offense should have a solid core to rely on.
The Terps also announced the signings of five recruits in November, four of who are from Maryland, adding to a roster with only three rising seniors.
“We’re going to be super young, but super talented and athletic, and that’s where this team will thrive,” Wright said.
Third baseman Anna Kufta, who will be one of the Terps’ three seniors, emerged as the Terps’ go-to clutch hitter and finished the season with 42 RBIs. Shortstop Bailey Boyd, a graduating senior who transferred from Towson before the season, was second to McRae on offense with a .308 batting average.
[Read more: Maryland softball eliminated from Big Ten tournament contention with 8-0 loss to Michigan]
Boyd, despite the team’s losing streak to end the season, said she had immense pride in the group and hopes that the team’s chemistry continues in the future on and off the field.
“Overall, we’re more of a positive team,” Boyd said. “When we have fun is when we’re our best, … so if they can just carry that into next year, that would be great.”
Starting in 50 games as catcher, Voulgaris emerged as a leader on both sides of the ball. Offensively, she averaged .295 and amassed a .389 on-base percentage, usually hitting in the clean-up spot.
Behind the plate is where Voulgaris shined, catching for five different pitchers throughout the season. The Terps’ pitching staff was inconsistent in the circle, but senior Sydney Golden emerged as the team’s ace.
Golden closed out the season with a 3.78 ERA and went .500 in her 26 starts. Fellow senior Sami Main, who led the staff with three saves, often relieved Golden in the circle. But Main also started 10 games for the Terps, finishing with a 5.61 ERA.
Redshirt freshman Victoria Galvan and junior-college transfer Kiana Carr mainly split the remaining innings — both finished with ERAs above seven — and figure to feature prominently next year, in addition to two incoming freshman recruits.
“There’s really only one way to go, and that’s up,” Main said. “They’re very willing to learn, and I think there’s definitely some up and coming leadership that’s going to prove dividends for the team in the future.”
Defensively, the Terps had 69 errors. While an improvement on last year’s 95, the self-inflicted miscues in 2019 ranked fourth-highest in the Big Ten and cost Maryland in some games, such as its three errors against North Carolina on March 2 helping the Tar Heels to an 11-5 win.
Tightening up the defense is one of Wright’s many teaching points for next year’s squad, but the fifth-year coach is nevertheless proud of how her team played until the end, and looks forward to her young stars improving further next season.
“That’s the thing about this team — they’re fighters,” Wright said. “That’s kind of embedded in how we do things here. … I know that there’s really good talent on this team. We just need to get it back healthy and be able to then grow and develop.”