(Ann Arbor, MI) The 2017 campaign begins Friday for Concordia softball who will host Albion (9am), Kalamazoo (11am), and (RV) Indiana Wesleyan (2pm) in the Legacy Center (Brighton, MI) as part of the Cardinal Kickoff Classic. The program has gone 11-7 in WHAC play in two straight seasons and looks to build off their 31 overall wins from 2016. The softball team garnered national honors when the team recieved votes in the first two NAIA coaches' polls last spring. Now in his 6th season, Coach Brierley reached a coaching milestone when he won his 100th game last season. With a talented incoming class and a quality group of returners, Coach Greg Brierley believes this team is ready to take the next steps toward continued success.
The Cardinals lost several quality players to graduation, but return six starters and added another strong recruiting class. Statistically, leading the group of returners are upperclassman Amanda Benezra, Samantha Capuzzi (JR/Temecula, CA), Amy Trionfi (SR/Allen Park, MI), and Lindsey Pyle (SR/Pelham, AL), Elizabeth Barkel, and Jessica England (JR/Fowlerville, MI).
Capuzzi is coming off a First Team All-Conference sophomore season, impressive with both the bat and glove. She was in the WHAC's top ten in batting average, slugging percentage, run, hits, double, and home runs and was also named to the All-Defensive team for her prowess in centerfield and cutting down eight runners from advancing. Capuzzi's line at the plate was .370/.413/.616 and her seven home runs was the third most by a player in CUAA history.
Trionfi plays short stop for the Cardinals and joined Capuzzi on the First Team All-Conference in 2016 with a big offensive year. Batting at the top of the lineup, she led the team with a .387 batting average. Trionfi added some pop with five home runs, 13 doubles, and 3 triples. She enters her last season in a Cardinal uniform ranking seventh in career batting average (.333), fifth in runs (103), ninth in hits (154), fifth in doubles (34), eighth in triples (8), seventh in home runs (8), and fourth in slugging percentage (.494).
Senior outfielder, Lindsey Pyle has smacked nine career homers (6 in 2016) and is eighth all-time with 31 career doubles. She was tied for the team lead in walks (16) and her 75 total bases were third behind only Capuzzi and Trionfi last year.
Elizabeth Barkel (JR/Clinton, MI), Jenna Lowney (SO/Novi, MI), will provide additional power at the plate and aggressivess on the bases. Barkel and Lowney both hit over .320, Barkel drove in 32 runs, and Lowney swiped a team-high 16 stolen bases.
The Cardinals graduated two all-conference aces, Corinna Rotondo and Cheyenne Brierley but will look to fill that void by committee. Coach Brierley will rely on the arms of Samantha Eubanks (SO/Lomita, CA), Jessica England, Kara Gehrke (SO/Alpena, MI), Becky Sarver (FR/Elkhart, IN), and Julianne Venier (SO/Newport, MI) to compliment his high powered offense. Jessica England pitched 61 2/3 innings with a 2.63 ERA and led the team with 67 strikeouts.
Recruiting quality student athletes to Concordia has always been a strength of Coach Brierley and his staff. The well rounded freshman class will help bring depth, versatility, and skill to an already talented roster. Alyssa Jabara (FR/Warren, MI), Kassidy Grandorff (FR/Chehalis, WA), Tyffani Bryan (FR/Tecumseh, MI), Kendall Sampang (FR/Canyon Lake, CA), Chandlar Zavala (FR/Lancaster, CA), Becky Sarver, Carly Pearson (FR/La Mesa, CA), and Carley Drzewiecki (FR/Traverse City, MI), Cierra Woods will provide valuable experience, transferring from Oakland University.
"I'm excited about our team this year," said Brierley. "We welcome one of my most talented recruiting classes in CUAA's history and return a quality of group of ladies. The team has been working extremely hard and is ready to play ball!"
After the Cardinal Kickoff Classic, Concordia will head south in early March for more non-conference games. The team will again play in the Gulf Shores Invite (Alabama) at Mobile University where they will see three NAIA top 10 teams in three days.
The Cardinals will then travel to Thomas, GA where they will play a 2-day series against Thomas University who has been a powerhouse team for the last 10 years. CUAA swept the Knight Hawks last season evening the overall record between the two schools to 3-3. The spring trip wraps up with a final string of games at the world premier Spring Games event in Clermont, Florida before coming home for conference play.
"We will face a very competitive schedule during our spring trip," said Brierley. Playing these quality teams will be a great experience for our program and prepare us for WHAC play."
Concordia's WHAC conference schedule begins with a double-header against Rochester College in Ann Arbor on March 26th. Always competitive, two conference opponents were recognized in the NAIA preseason poll. The Cardinals host #15 Davenport on April 2nd and will travel to (RV) Madonna later that month. The team will recognize their senior's in their final home game when they take on Indiana Tech on April 23rd.
"The WHAC is one of the strongest NAIA conferences in the country," said Brierley. "We look forward to improving upon our 3rd place finish from last year and making run in the conference tournament and beyond."
Coach Brierley has named three seniors—Amy Trionfi, Lindsey Pyle, and Amanda Benezra (SR/La Quinta, CA)—as captains for 2017. He expects their veteran leadership to help bring the team motto to fruition.
Brierley commented, "Our moto this year is: 'Play hard. Play smart. Play together.' It's important for us to embrace those words at all times. I think our captains, with their leadership and experience, will lead us to do that."