This isn’t the first time softball head coach Darren Mueller witnessed youth up and down his starting lineup. He’s not afraid to admit this year’s team lacks experience, though. He also knows the loss of his other head coach Jamie Trachsel after 13 years stings. But he’s over it, and he can’t wait to see what’s in store for the 2017 version of the Bison.
The elephant in the room around the Dacotah Field Bubble this winter has been the loss of nine players from last year’s Summit League champion roster. This includes four players who started all 54 games. This may sound eerily similar to situations in the past.
You don’t have to look far to remember the last time Darren Mueller’s softball program had to reload the starting lineup. The 2013 Bison lost four of its best hitters from the season prior. The roster was littered with nine freshmen and four emerged as impactful players in the lineup.
As the second youngest team in the country, the Bison lost in the 2013 Summit League championship game when they ran into IPFW. It was the only time in the last eight years the Bison didn’t win the conference.
Mueller’s 2017 team is looking to avoid the speed bump in the run of seven conference titles over the past decade.
“This year, we have a lot of people that have been a part of the program, but they haven’t been on the field as much,” Mueller said. “They’re all going to learn and be thrown into the fire and I guess we’ll see what happens.”
Among the players that are returning to lead the young Bison into the fire are pitchers Jacquelyn Sertic and KK Leddy, catcher Alyssa Reina, outfielder Bre Beatty and infielders Julia Luciano and Zoe Stavrou. But the players on the roster are not alone.
This fall, a handful of former Bison softball players who have recently left the program returned to help acclimate the younger players to their bigger roles.
Graduate assistant manager Cheyenne Garcia went directly from playing second base to the coaching staff. Garcia won the 2015 Summit League Player of the Year, was a two-time 1st team All-Summit League performer and was a freshman on the young 2013 team that advanced to the Summit League championship game.
Garcia has been in the cleats of most of the players in the lineup this year that will endure their first season with a starting role. Garcia isn’t allowed to coach the players, but she can speak to Mueller about what she sees on the practice field.
This fall, former shortstop Logan Moreland was able to spend time with the new middle infielders replacing her and Garcia from last year. Former centerfielder Alex Sobrero was also able to come back and speak with the outfielders.
The strong Bison culture is apparent around the softball program even though the faces are new. With a strong core at pitcher and catcher, a lot will be on the shoulders of the new players in the Bison lineup. But this isn’t Mueller’s first rodeo, and he can’t wait to get the ball rolling.
Head Coach Darren Mueller Conversation
You lost a lot of starters from last year, but it still feels like there are more returning players than people think. Did you lose a manageable amount of players?
“I feel like we’ve lost a lot of experience. We’re probably going to be starting six positions where it’s the first time they’ve played at those positions. Our whole outfield will be brand new this year with Katie (Shoultz) being out so that makes it a little more difficult.
“We have a lot of people that have gone through the program but as far as being on the field and going through those type of ups and downs throughout the season, that’s one thing I feel like we’re lacking is that experience.”
How many players do you feel like could rotate through the starting lineup to begin the year and when do you think you’ll have a core group of starters?
“Since the team has been here in the fall, it’s almost like a new program this fall with some new people on the coaching staff and all this inexperience on the field. So we’re trying to find what’s going to work, what’s going to click and our team has been busting their butts and doing a great job of just going out there and working. So I think everybody is going to be utilized this year.
“We talk about working on the mental skill, working on how their chemistry is going to work on the field. How are they going to work up the middle with Montana DeCamp and Lauren Reimers? I don’t want to compare them to Cheyenne Garcia and Logan Moreland because, for four years, they were pretty great. But, we’ve seen that happen in the past with Nicole Rivera and Laurel Pipkin, back in 2009. We’ve seen that happen, but we’re just going to see how they develop and how it works for Lauren and Montana or whoever fits in the middle.”
You talk about your senior catcher Alyssa Reina as one of your leaders. What does she bring?
“She’s kind of that coach on the field. Alyssa has been on the field and has had the type of experience and just her personality. She’s the perfect person to help with this young team. She has been like another coach, and that’s where it goes back to the learning experience.”
Graduate Assistant Manager Cheyenne Garcia Conversation
Why did you decide to come back to the team after your eligibility was up?
“I love the team. I love being around the team. There’s a lot of girls that I played with and I want to watch them grow as people and as players.”
This team is similar to your freshman class in 2013. When did you feel like you were comfortable leading as a younger player?
“We were asked as freshmen that we needed to mature a lot faster than most freshmen because there were ten of us, so the majority of the team. We were pushed really hard and we had our upperclassmen to lean on and even our sophomores were amazing.
“I’d say sophomore year we just grew a great bond with each other so it felt like we all had different parts that we could lead in. There were different people I looked up to at times. If it was hitting, it was one person, fielding it’d be a different person, and for my mental side, another person.”
Have you tried mentoring any of the younger middle infielders and talk them through the development process?
“I do what I can behind the scenes, but I think they’re starting to understand a little more. In the fall, it was a rocky start but their positions are narrowed down more now. There’s a lot of girls who play different positions, so it’s nice when they can connect with each other in their position group. They’re a close team already, and they have some figuring out to do, but they’ll get there. You don’t want to peak in the beginning anyways.”
When do you think they’ll start figuring it out?
“They get along really well, but it will take experience. You’re going to go through really bad times. Logan Moreland and I went through everything together, and I think that’s what made us even closer. We’re still really close now. They’re super eager to learn and they’re awesome people. They absorb everything.”