MEQUON, Wis. –Concordia University Wisconsin's softball team returns several talented upperclassmen in 2013 and that has the Falcons entering this spring with high expectations. CUW posted a 25-16 record last year, where they went 19-5 in Northern Athletics Conference games, finishing third in the league. Despite the recent success, 13th-year head coach Steve Crook knows the program can continue to improve.
"Last year, with injuries and a difficult early season, I would say we were a little bit disappointed," says Crook. "However, we finished strong at the end and have some good things to build on for this year."
CUW returns several key pieces from last year's team as four seniors are expected to lead the way as it aims for a NAC Championship. Abbie Goetsch (Grayslake, Ill.), Cara Landherr (Waukesha, Wis.), Jannelle Schroder (Colgate, Wis.), and Holly Zinnecker (Roscoe, Ill.) enter their final season as leaders who have made significant contributions and will be looked upon to guide the program to another level.
"We have four seniors who have all impacted our program tremendously over the past four years," Crook says. "I have little doubt that following this season they will leave here as the winningest class in program history."
Some of those seniors will be looking at new roles this season, beginning with Landherr, who is returning from a season-ending injury last year. She batted .291 with five home runs before the injury, and is expected to start at first base in 2013. That transition will mean Goetsch, who hit .314 and drove in 26 runs in 2012, will also be moving to a new position, catcher.
"We will be moving a few of our returners," says Crook. "It's always exciting to see seniors who rise up and accept the challenges."
The senior core will be joined by several key returners as the Falcons welcome back seven players who started at least 26 games a year ago. Junior Mariah Giesseman (Sturgeon Bay, Wis.) and sophomore Jessica Liszka (Lindenhurst, Ill.) both return as well as junior Stephanie Kramer (Fond du Lac, Wis.), a player who missed last season due to injury after being named to the All-NAC Freshman team in 2011.
Liszka was a 2012 All-NAC First Team performer, serving as the team's shortstop and leadoff hitter, while Giesseman also had a strong campaign, batting .293 in 40 starts for the Falcons.
"Jessica had an outstanding freshman season after moving into a couple new roles for our team," Crook says. "I feel that our returning core of players is as good as anyone else in the conference."
CUW should be well-positioned in the pitcher's circle as it returns junior Jamie Schuh (Freedom, Wis.), who is coming off a strong season where she earned All-NAC Honorable Mention recognition. Schuh posted a 2.27 ERA and went 11-5, throwing 11 complete games and striking out 96 batters in 117 innings of work.
"Jamie is a player that is lights out when she is on her game," Crook says. "We have her and Melissa Perkins, a freshman, and we are really excited about our pitching."
Perkins (Park Forest, Ill.) is a talented newcomer who Crook says could see plenty of innings because of her immense potential.
The Falcons begin their season this weekend when they play four games in Marquette, Mich. beginning with No. 16 Carthage College Saturday at 8:45 a.m. CUW will be tested early and often this spring as nine of the team's first 14 games come against teams who ended last year regionally ranked by the NCAA.
"Our early non-conference schedule will help prepare us," Crook says. "Our players are ready for the challenge and we need to make the most of this opportunity."
The Falcons hope the challenging early non-conference schedule and the return of several key players will bring plenty of success in 2013.