2016 Softball Season Outlook: Infield
Returners: Seniors Chaley Brickey and Kylee Kennedy, juniors Taylor Dodson and Taylor McElhaney and sophomore Daniella Chavez, Amanda Organ, Jessie Roane and Mikayla Warren
Newcomers: Junior Jordan Zolman and freshmen Alexis Reid and Ania Williams
LAWRENCE, Kan. – With the start of the 2016 season less than 24 hours away, Kansas softball wraps up its four-part series with its final installment of the 2016 season outlook highlighting KU’s infield.
Kansas’ infield lost two cornerstones when first basemen Maddie Stein and third basemen Chanin Naudin graduated at the end of the 2015 season, but head coach Megan Smith returns eight infielders with experience under their belts and only three new faces to the roster. Although senior Chaley Brickey and junior Taylor McElhaney are the only returning starters in the infield, both earned All-Big 12 honors at the conclusion of last year. Several returning letterwinners are vying for the starting roles open on the corners.
“Our middle infield is special,” said Smith. “They are really talented softball players and athletes. They work extremely well together and they feed off of each other. They are already good, but they make each other better, which I think is a good quality to have in your teammates.”
Brickey completed her junior campaign earning National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Midwest All-Region Third Team and All-Big 12 First Team honors. She started all 55 games at shortstop and led the squad with a .386 batting average. Brickey ranked first on Kansas’ roster in hits (68), runs scored (52) and slugging percentage (.688). The Haltom City, Texas native was second on the team in home runs (13), RBIs (56), walks (38) and on-base percentage (.488).
“This is Chaley’s fourth season as our starting shortstop and I wish I could have a thousand more with her there,” Smith said. “I can’t tell you how important she is to our team. Defensively, she is solid, she’s dynamic and she’s a leader. She does it all and having her out on the field, you can breathe a sigh of relief if anything is hit near her she is going to give full effort to make the play.”
McElhaney earned All-Big 12 Defensive Team honors at the end of her sophomore campaign. She started every game last season at second base and batted .266, collecting 33 hits on the year. The Talala, Oklahoma native hit three doubles and two home runs, and tallied 18 RBIs, including a season-high four at New Mexico State (2/14).
“Same thing goes for Taylor McElhaney, her teammates value the fact that she will do whatever it takes to get the job done,” said Smith. “I value that and I would put our middle infielders up against anyone in the country.”
Adding depth to the middle infield is sophomore Mikayla Warren. Last year as a freshman, Warren appeared in 20 games and was used primarily in pinch running situations. She recorded eight runs scored and two stolen bases. The Olathe, Kansas native tallied her first stolen base against Arkansas (2/7) and posted a sacrifice hit against Stony Brook (2/27).
While Smith has settled on the middle infield for the upcoming season, first and third base are up for grabs. Several Jayhawks have been working hard at each corner. At third base, junior Taylor Dodson, sophomores Jessie Roane and Amanda Organ are competing for time.
Roane will see action both in the infield and behind the plate. The Rio Rancho, New Mexico native was recruited as an infielder and moved to catcher last season after Harli Ridling was injured prior to the start of the year. A member of the 2015 Big 12 All-Freshman Team, Roane started all 55 games during her rookie season. She batted .325 with 12 doubles, three home runs and 22 RBIs. Roane also recorded 21 base on balls.
“Jessie had a great fall at third base. Last year, she started out in the infield and then when Harli (Ridling) got injured we moved her to only catching,” said Smith. “We had to get her ready for that because it’s such a difficult position. So, she honestly took time off, she didn’t really take ground balls and work out at third. She spent the summer working at home with her dad getting ready and this fall she improved quite bit. She’s just got natural skills at third base and good hands. She is a talent third basemen and she showed in the fall that she can do a really good job at third base.”
Dodson, a native of Grove, Oklahoma, appeared in 11 games as a pinch hitter and one as a pinch runner last season. She recorded eight at-bats and scored one run, while posting an on-base percentage of .200.
“We have Taylor Dodson at third base too and that is her natural position as well,” Smith said. “She has been working there quite a bit.”
Organ, who earned Academic All-Big 12 Rookie Team honors in 2015, saw action in 34 games as a pinch runner, pinch hitter and at second base. She recorded one hit in five at-bats and scored 12 runs, while posting a slugging percentage of .400 and a batting average of .200.
“We’ve also moved Amanda Organ to third base to see,” said Smith. “She is a second baseman, so she is still working at second base, but we moved her there because Amanda is a solid infielder. She makes every play, she’s not flashy, but makes every routine play. She is also a very good offensive player, so we are trying to figure out what options she would have to be in our lineup because we like her offensively.”
Several Jayhawks are vying for time at first base, giving Smith plenty of options, which will be key when decided who fits best with the offense given the situation.
“We have quite a few players we are looking to play first base and be our designated player,” Smith said. “It’s good to have flexibility with your first base and designated player because you can make choices depending on who you want in your offense, so if we want Alexis (Reid) in the offense all the time then she can pitch and DP and Daniella (Chavez) can play first. We’ve even put Alexis at first, just to have flexibility is important. We’ve options at first, Daniella has worked out there, Ania (Williams) has worked out there, Jordan Zolman has worked there and Kylee Kennedy is great defensively.”
One of five captains this season, senior Kylee Kennedy came off the bench in three games in pinch hitting situations during the 2015 campaign. She recorded three at-bats, including her first of the season against Penn State (2/8).
Sophomore Daniella Chavez spent her freshman season as KU’s designated player and set all sorts of batting records. Heading into her sophomore campaign, Chavez, who earned National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) All-Region Third Team honors, could transition into the infield. Chavez was selected by the conference coaches as the 2015 Big 12 Co-Freshman of the Year after batting .344. The Crowley, Texas native led the Jayhawks in home runs with 16, the most by a KU freshman in a single season, and RBIs with 67, shattering Kansas’ single-season record.
Zolman joins KU after playing two season at Missouri. As a sophomore, Zolman batted .346 (9-for-26) with two doubles and a pair of home runs, while tallying 10 RBIs and seven walks. The Arbyrd, Missouri native recorded three runs scored, posting a .645 slugging percentage and .485 on-base percentage.
Prior to joining the Jayhawks, Reid helped Blue Springs High School to three-straight conference championships and a district championship in 2014. She led the Wildcats to a 27-2 record as a junior and hit .500 on the season with 12 home runs. Reid was named to the all-conference team three times and was a two-time all-metro honoree.
Williams prepped at Spring High School and was named first-team all-district twice. The Spring, Texas native also earned an all-district honorable mention accolade.
KU welcomes eight newcomers to the squad for 2016 while returning 16 letterwinners and seven starters who helped the Jayhawks to their second-straight NCAA Tournament appearance last season. Among those returning to the diamond in Crimson and Blue are All-Big 12 First Team selection Brickey and Big 12 co-Freshman of the Year Chavez.
Kansas softball opens its 2016 campaign in Florida at the Jacksonville Invitational Feb. 12-14, hosted by Jacksonville University. The Jayhawks will play a total of five games during the first weekend of the year against North Carolina State, Jacksonville, Coastal Carolina and North Carolina-Greensboro.
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