By David Wilson
Trevecca Nazarene University’s Women’s Softball team has been tabbed as the preseason favorite to repeat as champions of the Great Midwest Conference.
The Trojans, led by Coach Ben Tyree, return to the diamond in 2022 coming off a successful 2021 season.
Last year, Tyree’s Trojans finished with a record of 27-14 (14-4 in conference play). The Trojans would ultimately reach the Division II Midwest Regional Tournament, where they were defeated by rival Ohio Dominican.
Trevecca enters the 2022 campaign with several voids to fill in its’ starting lineup.
Only two starters return from last year’s regular season championship team.
Tyree will look to replace All-Conference pitcher Raygn Hall, All-American shortstop MaKray Odom, and several other senior leaders.
Hall appeared in 26 games last season and accounted for 132 innings pitched. She finished her career with 52 wins, 283 strikeouts, and a 3.14 ERA.
Odom started every game for the Trojans last year and finished with a team leading .467 batting average and 63 hits. Odom graduated with a career .484 batting average, along with 384 hits, and 192 runs.
“You don’t replace MaKray. She was a once in a lifetime player. Someone we will probably never get again. Teammate, Christian-scholar athlete, and she was number one in her class when she graduated. You [recruit] 12-15 girls a year and you’re lucky to get one who is that talented. We got lucky with MaKray,” said Tyree.
Senior outfielder Lenna Robinson and junior third baseman Carly Sperlich are the lone returning starters from last year’s potent offense. Both women were named to the GMAC All-Conference team last year.
Robinson, the only returning senior, hit .382 and recorded 47 hits last season.
Sperlich, the thumper in the middle of the order, led the team in both HR (9) and RBI (36).
Robinson enters the spring as the unquestioned leader of a talented, yet inexperienced roster.
“I am in a good position. I can’t say I wasn’t nervous at first, but I am surrounded by an incredible coaching staff, and a great junior class. I hope to be someone who leads by example and someone who can be a great listener,” said Robinson.
For the last few years, Tyree has viewed Robinson as someone ready to lead her teammates.
“She has kind of been in MaKray’s shadow ever since she has been here. MaKray was probably one of her best friends. [Lenna] has done a good job being a leader and will be anchoring centerfield for us. She will be our spokesman in the outfield,” said Tyree.
Carly Sperlich hopes to replicate a strong 2021 campaign in which she led the team in numerous offensive categories.
“I have a lot of experience, but at the same time, I am trying to not put too much pressure on myself. I love playing third base and being at the hot corner. At the plate I am an aggressive hitter. I do consider myself one of the power hitters. I think this team will bring a lot of power to the lineup,” said Sperlich.
Tyree points toward junior infielder Alyssa Triner, sophomore infielder Malone Thrift, and transfer catcher Kendall Andrews as potential pieces to fit around the returning Robinson and Sperlich.
Triner played in 25 games last season. She recorded a .328 batting average and slugged to a .851 OPS.
Thrift gained valuable experience last year as a freshman, playing in 34 games. She ended her season with a .342 batting average and three homeruns.
Both women were named to the GMAC All-Conference team.
Andrews transferred to Trevecca this fall from Division I UT-Chattanooga. She will provide much needed experience to a young catching core.
“Kendall Andrews has stepped in and will be leading us behind the plate. She has a big stick and a big arm. We are excited to see what she can do for us,” said Tyree.
This year’s team is a very competitive group. With the lack of starting experience, Tyree expects multiple freshmen to compete for playing time early in the year.
“They all have a chance to play. It is pretty wide open for us. Last season we were pretty much two deep at every position. So, some younger guys were able to play a lot. We have a couple freshmen who will come in and supplement those returners on our pitching staff. We also have some transfers who will help our team a lot,” said Tyree.
Despite losing senior Ragyn Hall to graduation, the Trojans return juniors Alex Behnke and Hannah Caffey to their pitching staff.
Behnke made 20 appearances last season, posting an 11-3 record with a 3.46 ERA.
Caffey made 17 appearances out of the bullpen last year, posting a 3.71 ERA.
“I have learned a lot since my freshman year. I still get that nervous excitement every time I step onto the field. For me, I now know how to pitch to hitters in our conference. I feel like I am more ready and know what the coaches expect of me,” said Behnke.
Freshmen Ashlan Sensing and Rylee Veron are also expected to step in and provide depth to the Trojan pitching staff.
“We are going to have a four-man staff this year. Our two freshmen coming in are going to get as many innings as those others. All four of them are going to have to take the ball and run with it. I built a schedule around that. We have a tough schedule both regionally and nationally,” said Tyree.
A competitive schedule featuring some of the top programs in the country will be a challenge for this unproven Trojan team.
“We understand that we are going to see everybody’s best. Whether that be their best pitchers or hitters. We have a target on our back after being picked to finish first. But we are excited about the opportunity,” said Behnke.
Being ranked number one in the preseason GMAC has caused a lot of excitement on campus. The returning upperclassmen are ready to prove that they have can build on last year’s success.
“Being picked number one shows that even the other coaches in conference recognize the talent we have [in our locker room]. We are a very deep team. We really have what it takes. It was definitely a nice compliment, but it makes us want to work harder,” said Robinson.
Trevecca opens their season at Alabama-Huntsville on February 11th. Conference play begins on March 18th as the Trojans will host Kentucky Wesleyan.