It’s been one heck of an offseason for the Oregon softball program.
After losing former head coach Mike White — and most of the coaching staff — to Texas, the Ducks hired renowned assistant coach Melyssa Lombardi from Oklahoma to be the new leader of the Ducks.
Following White’s departure and the hiring of Lombardi, a multitude of players left the program, leaving the program severely depleted.
Returning just one starter from last year’s team that was the No. 1 seed of the Women’s College World Series, Oregon begins its 2019 season at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Arizona on Friday. The Ducks will play five games in the three days, beginning with a doubleheader against Kansas and Cal-State Northridge on Friday, facing Bradley and Missouri on Saturday and Seattle on Sunday.
"This is a pretty resilient group, and I want to see them get into opening weekend and just settle in and get after it," Lombardi told GoDucks.com. "There's no pressure on them, so let's just relax and play the game that we love. If there are adjustments to make, we'll make them, but I just want to see full effort and for them to absolutely compete.”
Of the 19 members on the team, 10 are freshman while five are returners, making junior outfielder Haley Cruse the leader and catalyst of the program. After a tough freshman season, Cruse rebounded with a stellar sophomore campaign when she led the Pac-12 in batting average, hitting .426 in conference play and .377 overall, tops on the team.
Senior April Utecht is expected to take a big leap forward as the team’s first baseman and designated hitter. She had a great fall camp, hitting .563 with five homeruns and 15 RBI’s, hoping to be the anchor of typically potent Oregon lineup.
With no returning pitchers from last year’s team, Lombardo went out and got two new transfers in lefties Jordan Dail (Virginia Tech) and Maddie MacGrandle (Texas A&M). Both players saw limited action last season at their respective schools but are now expected to lead the charge against the Pac-12’s prolific offenses.
Helping to offset the loss of nine members from last year’s team, the Ducks will turn to five freshman who were ranked in the top-100. Headlining the group are infielders Jasmine Sievers and Rachel Cid (No. 10 and 11, respectively) while the late transfer of freshman Terra McGowan is expected to give the Ducks a big boost in the middle of the lineup.
It’s been an offseason of turmoil, one that nobody, including Lombardi, saw coming. Despite entering the season ranked No. 25 in the country — the 135th consecutive week the Ducks are nationally-ranked — Oregon was voted to finish last in the Pac-12 preseason poll.
UCLA narrowly finished ahead of 2018 WCWS runner-up Washington as the conference preseason favorite while the Ducks were picked ninth with 12 points, five points behind eighth place Stanford.
After the Kajikawa Classic, the Ducks will travel across the country to take part in the St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational the following weekend.
Oregon will have 15 games to get ready for the Judy Garman Classic at the end of the month in Fullerton, California. The Ducks will face four of the nation’s top-25 teams and a fifth whose receiving votes. That will be the true test to see how far this young and inexperienced team has come, and how much farther it still has to go to get back to national supremacy.