2017 Kansas Softball Season Outlook: Freshman Class
LAWRENCE, Kan. – Just days away from the start of the 2017 season, Kansas softball will preview each class in a four-part series. The first installment of the 2017 season outlook includes Kansas’ freshman class.
In her eighth year at the helm of Kansas softball, head coach Megan Smith added seven freshmen to her roster for the 2017 season. In what she described her most versatile and athletic classes she’s signed, the freshman class is made up of a pitcher, two utility players and four infielders that come to Kansas from as close as Missouri and as far away as Canada.
While not a member of the 2016 signing class, redshirt freshman Ania Williams leads the freshman corps with a year of experience under her belt already. Williams made nine appearances and six starts in the pitching circle and stepped into the batter’s box in seven games before suffering a season-ending injury and utilizing her redshirt year.
“Ania is a tough pitcher,” said Smith. “She gets in the circle and fights, that’s a great attribute to have, especially at this level because you’re going to get bumps and bruises, but if you can fight, you’re going to be successful more often than not. That’s what we saw from her last year when she pitched and that’s what we see now. She’s got good pitchers and can mix speeds, but it’s just her tenacity, matched with her talent level, that makes her effective for us in the circle.”
Before her injury in 2016, Williams recorded a 4-2 mark in the circle and tossed a 2.45 ERA with 17 strikeouts. She struck out a career-high seven batters in a win over Wisconsin. In the batter’s box, Williams hit .222 on the year with two hits, a run scored and a RBI.
“She’s also been doing some hitting work and that’s something that might be a piece for her too (this season). Her biggest impact (in 2017) will be what she does in the circle for us.”
Becki Monaghan, a catcher/infielder, traveled the furthest to join the Jayhawks this year after prepping at Memorial Composite High School in Stony Plain, Edmonton. Monaghan comes to KU with experience at the national level by playing on the Canadian Junior National Team.
“Becki has an enormous amount of potential,” said Smith. “She’s a power-hitting lefty and she can catch. She’s got great hands as a catcher and has great demeanor with the pitchers, but she’ll probably see more time at first base for us, which she’s adapted to really well. She’s played first base before and she’s really athletic, so it hasn’t really been difficult for her. Offensively, we’re hoping that she’ll be a big part of our lineup this year.”2017 freshman class
A familiar name to Kansas softball is next up in the freshman class. Brittani Reid, an infielder from Blue Springs, Missouri, is the younger sister of current Jayhawk pitcher Alexis Reid. In her time at Blue Springs High School, Reid helped BSHS to four conference titles, three district titles and a regional championship.
“Brittani is really athletic and offensively is super confident when she gets in the box,” Smith said. “She has a great demeanor and does well offensively, and on the bases because she’s so fast. She is a threat for us in terms of stealing bases and taking extra bases. She’s really aggressive on the bases, that’s one of her biggest strengths. Defensively, she is seeing time in both the infield and the outfield during practice.”
A four-time all-conference selection (2012-15), Mandy Roberts is the lone newcomer in the circle for the Jayhawks this season. Roberts prepped at Lee’s Summit West High School in Lee’s Summit, Missouri. Roberts recorded 37 wins in 401 innings pitched, while striking out 467 batters in her career.
“Being a freshman is difficult, and being a freshman pitcher is even more difficult because you have a new pitching coach, you’re learning that system and raising your expectations,” said Smith. “There’s more of a spotlight (on you) and you can’t get away with mistakes. I think that Mandy is learning that. She has some great pitches and she’s had some really good days. She’s going to get opportunities, it’s a matter of her staying confident and knowing that as coaches we believe in her. We know that she can go out there and get the job done. As a pitcher, she has some great tools and has some great spin. (She) has the ability to shut down an offense with her pitches.”
Another versatile addition to Kansas’ infield this season, Madison Sykes, is one of two Blue Springs High School products. A two-time all-district selection, Sykes will join the Jayhawks in the infield and is vying for a spot in either corner of the infield.
“Sykes is a very consistent and reliable player,” Smith said. “She’s smart and fundamentally sound. She knows what she’s supposed to do and executes what she’s supposed to do. She’s a true corner and does a great job at third base. We’ve had her at second base, not her true position, but she’s worked hard and learned it. Offensively, she has a lot of great tools as a lefty. She’s got good speed, which is deceptive.”
Courtney Taylor is another piece of the puzzle for KU’s defense in the infield. She prepped at Lamar High School in Houston, Texas where she was named the district’s Offensive Player of the Year, Second-Team All-Greater Houston and Texas Writer’s Association All-State First Team her junior year.
“Courtney is another one of those (players) that’s just a ton of fun to coach,” said Smith. “She’s got a great attitude, she works hard and she’s smart. We’ve had her in the middle infield, so she’s been working with Taylor McElhaney at shortstop and working a lot at second base. She’s got an unbelievable arm and it’s fun to watch her turn double plays. I think she’s worked hard in all aspects of her game, not just defensively, but also offensively. I know Coach Rittman has worked a ton with her on her swing and she’s been open to it and she’s been improving. She’s got a ton of power potential as a hitter.”
The second utility player in KU’s freshman class is Lily Valeo, who prepped at Cambridge High School in Atlanta, Georgia. Valeo has potential to make an impact at several different positions for Kansas. Valeo helped the Bears to regional championships as a junior and senior and hit .500 in the state tournament with three home runs in 2014.
“Lily decided to come here in August and what a great addition she’s been to our team,” Smith said. “She’s a great teammate, a great player to coach and she works hard wherever you put her. She’s completely selfless and a breath of fresh air. She’s going to be a role player this year. She has great speed, which we put her out in the outfield a little bit because of her speed, and she’s got a cannon for an arm. Her speed was a real surprise for us, so that’s something that we’re going to use.”
The final member of the Jayhawks’ 2017 freshman class is Zara Voulgaris, an infielder from Lockport, Illinois. In high school, Voulgaris batted .354 with 17 hits, including five doubles and two home runs as a senior.
“Zara, she’s a hitter and she’s got power,” said Smith. “Right now, she’s still getting used to the speed of the game and what she’s going to be facing in movement and speed of the pitchers. That’s something that she’s really working on and she’s worked hard with Coach Rittman on tweaking some things in her swing. She’s got some big power potential and will get some opportunities offensively for us.”
In 2017, KU returns six starters and 13 letterwinners from last season, while welcoming nine newcomers, including a pair of transfers. Among those returning is All-Big 12 Freshman Team member Alexis Reid, who posted a victory in the circle over nationally-ranked Oklahoma on the road last spring.
Kansas softball opens its 2017 campaign in Florida at the Stetson Tournament, Feb. 10-12. The Jayhawks will play a total of five games during the first weekend of the year against Akron, Savannah State and Stetson.
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