DEARBORN, Mich. - The University of Michigan-Dearborn softball team is looking to build on a historic season a year ago, as the Wolverines eye a first-ever NAIA Tournament appearance in 2018.
With the opening of the season under three weeks away, UM-Dearborn was picked to finish first in the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference, tying Aquinas College for the most points in WHAC Softball Preseason Coaches' Poll.
UM-Dearborn received 98 points, including three first-place votes, sharing first place with Aquinas, which received two first-place votes. Madonna University was third in the poll with 96 points, including five first-place votes.
In 2017, UM-Dearborn shared the WHAC regular season title with Madonna and former league member Davenport University with a record of 16-4. The championship was the first for the Wolverines and a first for any program at UM-Dearborn, which had an overall record of 30-10 last year.
The Wolverines will need to replace the production of three key seniors from last year's team, including Taylor Moceri, Kylie Hill and Alex Elwell. Moceri finished her career as the program record holder for batting average, hits, triples, runs scored and stolen bases. She earned All-WHAC First Team and Defensive Team honors. Hill provided a strong bat in the middle of the lineup, earning All-WHAC Second Team, while Elwell was a solid member of the pitching rotation.
UM-Dearborn returns several key student-athletes, including senior starting pitcher Gina Verduzco (SR/Portage, MI), who started 23 games in 2017, finishing with a record of 15-7, with four saves. She struck out 127 batters and finished the season with a 2.46 ERA. Verduzco added a strong bat in the lineup, hitting .393 with two home runs and 14 RBIs. She is the UM-Dearborn record holder for career pitching wins, innings pitched and strikeouts.
Senior infielder Jordan Ewald (SR/Wixom, MI) will play a big role in the middle of the UM-Dearborn lineup. She is the UM-Dearborn record holder for career doubles with 34 and RBIs with 100. Ewald batted .330 with six home runs, 28 RBIs and 19 runs scored in 2017.
Junior Riley Hison (JR/Macomb Township, MI) had a breakout season for the Wolverines in 2017, tying for second on the team in batting average at .398. She finished with 39 total hits, scoring 27 runs and driving in 18. Hison was named to the All-WHAC First Team.
Other key returners for UM-Dearborn include Ellie Kauten (SR/Shelby Township, MI), Amy Jarrett (SO/Howell, MI), Rachel Clem (JR/Stevensville, MI) and Sarah Prashad (JR/Mississauga, Ontario), all seeing significant starting time in 2017. In addition to Verduzco, the Wolverines have experience on the mound with the return of Ashlynn Henderson (SO/Temecula, CA), Julie St. John (JR/Farmington, MI) and Samantha Torongeau (SO/Shelby Township, MI).
Newcomers for 2018 include University of Dayton sophomore transfer Kayla Laquiere (SO/Shelby Twp., MI), freshman outfielder Meaghan Markus (FR/Mattawan, MI) and freshman pitcher Kaylie McConnell (FR/Holland, MI).
The Wolverines open the 2018 season in South Carolina, traveling to the University of South Carolina-Beaufort for a doubleheader on Feb. 25. UM-Dearborn plays nine games over the following week at the Fastpitch Dreams Spring Classic in Myrtle Beach, S.C., including a doubleheader with No. 5 Brenau University on Feb. 26.
UM-Dearborn begins the defense of its WHAC title at Lourdes University in a doubleheader on March 28. The first home games of the season are set for April 6 against Aquinas at Alumni Field in Ann Arbor, Mich., where the Wolverines will play three league series over three days.
UM-Dearborn is coached by Vince Alessandrini in his second season.
For a look at the full 2018 schedule CLICK HERE.