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SEASON PREVIEW: Softball opens 2020 at NAIA Leadoff

SEASON PREVIEW: Softball opens 2020 at NAIA Leadoff

DEARBORN, Mich. – It may be the middle of winter in Southeast Michigan, but the University of Michigan-Dearborn softball team is gearing up for the start of the program's 13th season this weekend in a tournament just outside Chicago.

UM-Dearborn will start the 2020 season, the fourth under Head Coach Vince Alessandrini, at the NAIA Leadoff Softball Tournament, hosted by Roosevelt University starting Thursday at The Dome in Rosemont, Ill.

UM-Dearborn returns seven seniors this season and will turn to its experience to help guide several new faces as the Wolverines look to return to the top of the Wolverine-Hoosier Athletic Conference.

"Our overall expectation this year is to compete for the league championship," Alessandrini said. "That is something we have talked about since day one. The returning student-athletes were not happy with last year's performance. Our motto is always 'Family,' but we always add to that, with this year being 'All In.'"

The Wolverines closed the 2019 season with a record of 17-20-1 overall and 7-14-1 in the WHAC, dropping the final six games of the season and missing the WHAC Postseason Tournament for the first time under Alessandrini, who guided UM-Dearborn to its first and only WHAC title in 2017.

As always, the key to success for UM-Dearborn this season will be the pitching staff, led by senior Ashlynn Henderson, who had a breakout campaign in 2019. She finished with a record of 6-6 in 12 starts, throwing a team-high 98 innings while striking out 52 and saving four games. Henderson also earned her first career WHAC Pitcher of the Week award as she compiled a team-best 2.86 ERA.

"Ashlynn is the heart of our pitching staff and if she is on the mound, we have a great chance of winning," Alessandrini said.

Joining Henderson on the mound will be senior Samantha Torongeau, as well as sophomores Erin McCune and Madelin Skene.

The offense was led last season by the sensational freshman season from Skene, as she led the Wolverines in several offensive categories, which included posting a .410 batting average. She finished the season with 48 hits, eight doubles, three triples, seven home runs, and 39 RBIs, while stealing seven bases, slugging .709 and scoring 26 runs. Skene was named to the All-WHAC First Team and will look to stabilize the middle of the Wolverine lineup in 2020.

Senior Amy Jarrett broke through for her best season in a UM-Dearborn uniform, earning All-WHAC Second Team honors, hitting .383 with 31 hits, 13 runs scored and six doubles. Senior Megan Lohner batted .355 with 17 runs scored and four doubles, while Aspen Starr batted .333 with a pair of home runs before her freshman season was cut short.

The Wolverines return several experienced position athletes, including seniors Kayla Laquiere and Liz Grumeretz behind the plate, senior infielder Olivia Cottom, junior Madisyn Collins, and sophomores Amber Cheplick, Melissa Charbonneau, Makenna Millhorn, Haley Tiseo, Audrey Asgarally, Baylee Collins and Alyssa Agosta.

Those entering their first season for the Wolverines include junior Holly Kimes, sophomore Gina Liss, as well as freshmen Rebecca Feliciano, Caitlyn Mauser, Marisa Vermiglio, Gabby Rolak and Carla Buffa.

The Wolverines open the NAIA Leadoff Tournament against St. Xavier University at 2:30 pm (EST) Thursday, followed by a matchup with Olivet Nazarene University at 4:45 PM (EST). UM-Dearborn will play six total games in Rosemont this weekend.

The annual spring trip will see the team head to Kissimmee, Fla., for 21 games from Feb. 29 to March 11, while the WHAC season gets underway against Lourdes University in a road doubleheader on March 25 in Sylvania, Ohio.

Six doubleheaders are on the home schedule this season with the first four to be played at Alumni Field in Ann Arbor, Mich., starting against Siena Heights University on March 28. Senior Day is scheduled for April 11 against the University of Northwestern Ohio, while the regular season will conclude with two home doubleheaders April 18-19 at Novi High School in Novi, Mich.

The 2020 WHAC Postseason Tournament returns to Pacesetter Park, April 29 - May 1 in Sylvania.