When a new coach enters a program, they often look to the team’s veteran players to set the tone. Lauren Karn has only a handful of those with Maryland softball.
The Terps return just half of their roster from a season ago. Of those returners, six are underclassmen and four are upperclassmen. The latter group will be crucial to maintaining the strong culture Maryland has built over the past few seasons, especially as uncertainty swirls around the roster and coaching staff.
“We had core values last year, we’re continuing to build on those core values, adding core values,” senior outfielder Megan Mikami said. “Stuff like that is something that you don’t really get rid of once a coaching staff leaves and a new one comes.”
Maryland began seeing success last year when it turned in its best season in over a decade. The Terps posted 38 wins in 2023 and made their first postseason appearance since 2012, falling to Iowa in the NISC semifinals. But key players departed.
Amelia Lech, Maryland’s leader in home runs and RBIs last season, transferred to Auburn. Trinity Schlotterbeck, second on the team in RBIs, departed for Florida Atlantic. Kiley Goff and Kamryn Davis also left. Three other players exhausted their eligibility.
Ten new players enter in their places. There will be an adjustment period, especially with a new coaching staff, but the veteran leaders want the newcomers to lean on them for guidance.
“They can always come to us because we’ve been here for a while, we’ve been around the block,” graduate outfielder Jaeda McFarland said. “We know how things operate.”
Outside of the newcomers, Maryland also boasts an extremely young roster with 13 underclassmen. But despite a new and young roster, Mikami is confident that the coaching staff and upperclassmen can help make the team’s goals attainable.
Karn, hired after Mark Montgomery announced his resignation last July, brings solid credentials. She led Oakland University to back-to-back Horizon League regular-season championships in 2022 and 2023, and also is a two-time coach of the year award winner in the league.
She will now jump from the Horizon League to the Big Ten. Maryland’s daunting schedule pits it against No. 4 Florida State, No. 8 UCLA, No. 10 Washington and No. 13 Oregon in the season’s first four weekends — all of those games are on the road.
“The turnover of constantly traveling every weekend can really take it out of you both physically and mentally,” Mikami said. “But I think what we do a really good job of is trying to flip our mindset and looking at it as more of an opportunity rather than a challenge. I mean, the opportunity to play a team like UCLA, a team like Florida State, that’s huge.”
The Terps’ tough early-season schedule will be a measuring stick for where the team stands heading into a similarly challenging Big Ten slate. Maryland hasn’t made the NCAA tournament since joining the conference in 2014. Last season, eight Big Ten teams finished in the top 50 in RPI, including the Terps at 47.
Karn has hopes of one day winning the conference’s championship. The coach also recognizes that goal is far away.
“That’s what we’re pushing for, that’s what we’re talking about as a team,” she said. “But there’s things that have to happen, there’s a process that has to happen. And so we’re working through that process.”