Kansas Set to Open Season at Southeastern Lion Classic

Feb. 8, 2012

Game Notes

LAWRENCE, Kan. – Armed with seven returning starters to complement seven newcomers, the Kansas softball team will kickoff the 2012 season with five games at the Southeastern Lion Classic in Hammond, La., Feb. 10-12.

Led by third-year head coach Megan Smith, the Jayhawks return to the field after posting a 31-22 record in 2011 season, an 11.5 game improvement from 2010. That turnaround margin ranks 16th in NCAA history. Offensive power had much to do with the turnaround as KU broke its home run record with 60 home runs in 2011.

More than two-thirds of that offense returns in 2012, including redshirt senior Liz Kocon, the team’s homerun leader that belted 14 homers in 2011 and junior outfielder Maggie Hull, who led the team with a .346 batting average and 49 RBIs last spring.

Friday, Feb. 10
vs. Tennessee-Martin: 12:30 p.m. CT
vs. Troy: 3 p.m. CT
Saturday, Feb. 11
vs. Jackson State: 3 p.m. CT
vs. Southeastern Louisiana: 5:30 p.m. CT
Sunday, Feb. 12
vs. Northern Colorado: 10 a.m. CT

Fans can follow the action on GameTracker for all fives games, located on the softball schedule page on KUAthletics.com. Live scoring and weather updates can also be found by following JayhawkSoftball on Twitter.

– KU won’t see many familiar faces in its opening weekend as Troy, who the Jayhawks defeated last season, is the only opponent in the tournament that KU has faced in the last 27 years – if ever.
– The Feb. 10 opening day marks the earliest in the Megan Smith era. It also is the only season opener that the Jayhawks have not faced a top-25 opponent during her time at Kansas (2010 vs. No. 21 Louisville; 2011 vs. No. 25 North Carolina).
– Smith begins her third season as head coach, bringing a 52-57 overall record at Kansas into 2012. Kansas is 1-1 in season openers in the Smith era.

A year after finishing the season ranked in the top-50 RPI and narrowly missing an NCAA Regional bid, the Jayhawks entered the fall season and spring practices with an acute focus on changing their fate in 2012. Smith and the Jayhawks have the pieces in place to do so. With Hull and Kocon back to lead the offense, junior Mariah Montgomery, a 10-home run hitter last season, and sophomore Ashley Newman are back to man the middle infield, while Hull’s twin sister is another returning starter in right field.

The added components bring in many of the elements Smith has been scouting upon her arrival. Freshman pitcher and Texas native Alicia Pille enters the season as a primary candidate for the number one pitcher in the rotation. A powerhouse in the circle, Pille struck out 431 batters and recorded an 0.32 ERA in her senior season at Royse City High School. Fellow freshmen Chanin Naudin and Maddie Stein will likely see time at the infield corners, both bring .500-plus batting averages in from their senior seasons.

The biggest vacancies Smith will fill as 2012 gets underway are in centerfield and behind the plate. Freshman Lexi Bryant is working to fill the starting catcher role after the graduation of Brittany Hile, who started at catcher for four years and drilled 13 homeruns last season. Meanwhile, freshman Cassen Salamone and sophomore Elsa Moyer are competing for the centerfield spot, left open after two-year starter Alex Jones was forced to redshirt after tearing her ACL in the fall.

-Tennesee-Martin was picked to finish third in the Ohio Valley Conference preseason poll after finishing last year 34-24 overall. UTM returns the 2011 OVC Co-Freshman of the Year in pitcher/outfielder Amanda Bradenburg. She knocked in 35 RBIs and hit 14 doubles last season.-Troy was selected to finish fifth in the SunBelt Conference preseason poll after posting a 32-27 record in 2011. Senior third baseman Nikki Hollett returns to lead the team after an NFCA All-Region award in 2011. Her 20 home runs last year ranked seven in the NCAA, while her 56 RBIs ranked second all-time in school history.-Jackson State is the only team in the tournament field to play in an NCAA Regional in 2011. Senior infielder Wendi Reed was named to the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) Preseason All-Conference Team after hitting a a .354 clip last year.-Southeastern Louisiana serves as the host school and was picked to finish 10th in the Southland preseason poll after recording a 22-30 mark last in 2011. Junior outfielder Kelsey Nichols led the Lions last spring with a .358 average, while senior outfielder Katie Matthews led the squad with six home runs and three triples.-Northern Colorado was chosen to finish second in the Mountain Division of the Pacific Coast Softball Conference after a 17-35 record in 2011. The Bears are led by senior outfielder Erin Geddis, an All-PCSC Second Team selection last spring.

Kansas heads to the Charlotte Classic in Charlotte, N.C. for another five-game weekend. The Jayhawks open the tournament against Middle Tennessee State, Friday, Feb. 17, at 9 a.m. CT.