Lincoln - The Nebraska softball team began its quest for a return trip to the Women's College World Series this week, practicing for the first time in preparation for its upcoming fall exhibition season.
The Huskers' fall season runs through the first weekend of October and includes an intra-squad scrimmage and eight exhibition contests against Division I opponents. Nebraska kicks off its schedule with a special intra-squad scrimmage at the Doris Bair Complex, where NU played all of its fall games last season while Bowlin Stadium received new grass. The Huskers then host the Big Red Fall Classic on Saturday, Sept. 28 and Sunday, Sept. 29 at Bowlin Stadium, when the program will celebrate its Alumni Weekend. The Huskers will face Colorado State and UNO on both Saturday and Sunday in the three-team, six-game tournament. The following weekend, Nebraska hosts a doubleheader with Drake on Friday, Oct. 4 at 6 p.m., before completing its fall season with a doubleheader against Creighton on Sunday, Oct. 6 at 1 p.m. The Huskers will wear pink against the Bluejays as part of Breast Cancer Awareness Day at Bowlin Stadium. All eight of Nebraska's fall games - plus the team scrimmage at Doris Bair - are open to the public and free of charge.
Nebraska finished with a 45-16 record and a No. 8 final ranking in 2013. The Huskers must replace four starters from last year's team, which won the first NCAA Super Regional in school history and advanced to the Women's College World Series for the first time since 2002 and for the third time under Head Coach Rhonda Revelle.
Coming off a strong season in 2013 and with a plethora of returning talent and promising freshmen, Nebraska has high hopes for the 2014 season. Work toward reaching the team's expectations for next spring began this week, and Revelle was pleased with what she has seen from her team thus far.
"I feel like we have picked up where we left off last year," Revelle said. "Our returners have shown more maturity, and the freshmen have stepped right in and hit the ground running."
Returning players figure to be a strength for Nebraska this fall and next spring. Among NU's 11 returning players are a pair of All-Americans, four all-conference performers and eight players who made at least 25 starts in 2013. Senior twin sisters Tatum and Taylor Edwards have both earned All-America honors in their careers, as Tatum was a second-team selection in 2013 and Taylor was a third-team All-American in 2011. With Tatum in the circle and Taylor behind the plate, Nebraska is one of only two teams nationally who will feature an All-America pitcher and catcher in the 2014 season. Overall, the Huskers return the third-highest total of All-Americans of any team in the country and are one of only seven teams with multiple All-Americans on their roster. Tatum went 30-10 with a 1.91 ERA last season, ranking 11th nationally in shutouts (10) and 12th in wins. Offensively, she batted .286 with 11 doubles and 11 home runs. Taylor hit .328 with 14 doubles, 13 homers and 54 RBIs in 2013, and she ranks fourth nationally among all active players with 109 career walks, fifth with 159 career RBIs and eighth with 36 career home runs.
In addition to the Edwards twins, the Husker roster is also bolstered by a large and talented sophomore class that now benefits from a year of experience. Highlighting the sophomore class are Alicia Armstrong, Hailey Decker, Kiki Stokes, Dawna Tyson and Emily Lockman. Each of those five classmates made at least 25 starts as freshmen in 2013. Armstrong was a second-team All-Big Ten selection and was also the shortstop on the Big Ten's All-Defensive team after leading NU with a .346 average and posting the second-best fielding percentage by a shortstop in school history (.953). Decker started all 61 games at second base and hit .244 with six homers, 13 doubles and 29 RBIs. Her 13 doubles were the third-most by a freshman in school history and her six home runs and 29 RBIs both ranked eighth on Nebraska's all-time freshman chart. Stokes earned 58 starts as a freshman and was NU's primary leadoff hitter, posting a .403 on-base percentage and leading Nebraska with 13 stolen bases, the sixth-highest total by a freshman in school history. Tyson earned 29 starts - primarily as the designated player - and hit .264 with three homers and 16 RBIs in her rookie season.
Lockman rounds out the group of returning sophomore starters and is also a key member of Nebraska's three-pitcher staff that returns in tact from 2013. Lockman posted a 15-6 record with a 1.78 ERA that ranked fourth among all freshmen nationally. Lockman was one of only two freshmen pitchers nationally to earn first-team NFCA all-region honors in 2013, and she was only the second Husker freshman pitcher to earn that honor since the award was created in 1995. Both Lockman and Tatum Edwards earned first-team all-region pitching accolades in 2013, as Nebraska and Florida are the only two teams who return more than one first-team all-region pitcher for the 2014 season. Sophomore Danica Bishop also returns after posting a 1.75 ERA with one save in 2013. Overall, Nebraska ranked 15th nationally with a 1.85 team ERA in 2013.
Senior Kylee Muir, junior Mattie Fowler and sophomore Sammi Noland round out Nebraska's group of 11 returning letterwinners. Muir batted .293 in 2013 with three doubles, one homer and six RBIs in 25 appearances, including nine starts. Fowler was a starter on the Husker infield for the second straight year in 2013, moving to first base and starting 53 contests. A team captain, Fowler slugged three doubles and four home runs while producing 21 RBIs as one of Nebraska's top clutch hitters and top overall student-athletes. Noland appeared in 14 games and earned six at bats as Nebraska's backup catcher in 2013, when she played a key role in developing a trio of young pitchers into one of the best staffs in the country.
In addition to the returning talent, Nebraska welcomes five talented freshmen to the fold this fall in Rachel Arthur, Marjani Knighten, Lotte Sjulin, Austen Urness and Kat Woolman. Arthur, Sjulin and Woolman are also Nebraska natives, while Knighten and Urness hail from California.