NU Must Replace Three Position Starters from 2013
The Pitching Staff
Nebraska returns its entire pitching staff this spring, highlighted by senior All-American Tatum Edwards and sophomore all-region honoree Emily Lockman. Sophomore Danica Bishop also returns after showing continued improvement in her development throughout her freshman season. The trio, despite limited collegiate experience, helped Nebraska rank 15th nationally with a 1.85 staff ERA in 2013.
Edwards is poised for a superb senior season after earning second-team All-America honors in 2013 and a nod as the Big Ten Pitcher of the Year. After seeing somewhat limited action in her first two seasons, Edwards enjoyed a breakout junior campaign. She posted a 30-10 record with a 1.91 ERA in 253.1 innings in 2013, after throwing just 130.0 innings in her first two seasons combined. Edwards ranked 11th nationally in shutouts (10) and 12th in victories as a junior. She proved hard to hit, as opponents batted just .194 against her and struck out 229 times. Opponents produced only 43 extra-base hits in 908 at bats against Edwards, averaging just one extra-base hit for every 21 at bats.
In her career, Edwards owns a 46-15 record with a 2.17 ERA. She enters her senior season in fourth place in school history with a .754 career winning percentage and 10th with 333 strikeouts. Edwards is poised to crack Nebraska's all-time top 10 in several other categories, including needing just two victories and four shutouts to enter the top 10 in those respective categories.
In addition to playing a lead role in the circle, Edwards will also be a key contributor to the Husker lineup. She will hit for herself when pitching and is a candidate for additional playing time as the designated player or in the outfield when she is not in the circle.
Teaming up with Edwards to give Nebraska a potent 1-2 punch is Lockman, who earned first-team all-region honors and second-team All-Big Ten accolades as a freshman in 2013. Lockman was one of only two freshmen pitchers nationally to be a first-team all-region selection last spring. Together, Nebraska joins Florida as the only two pitching staffs in the country to boast a pair of returning first-team all-region hurlers.
Lockman lived up to considerable hype in her freshman season, as the 2012 California Gatorade Player of the Year posted a 15-6 record with a 1.78 ERA in 157.2 innings. Her ERA ranked second in the Big Ten, fourth among all Division I freshmen and 46th nationally overall. Lockman posted one of the most successful freshman seasons in school history in 2013, as she posted the fourth-lowest ERA ever by a Husker freshman while throwing the fifth-most innings.
Her stellar season helped her become the first freshman pitcher at Nebraska to earn all-conference honors since 2001 and the first to earn all-region accolades since 1997. Lockman was also the first Husker freshman pitcher ever selected as a first-team all-region selection, dating back to the award's inception in 1995.
Neither Edwards nor Lockman is resting on their laurels from last spring, according to pitching coach Lori Sippel, who noted each pitcher is hungry to take their game to the next level. Both Edwards and Lockman worked on their pitching repertoires during the offseason, in addition to focusing on the necessary mental, physical and emotional development needed to lead Nebraska back to the Women's College World Series.
Rounding out the staff is Bishop. Nebraska's tallest pitcher at 6-0, Bishop saw limited action as a freshman but made good strides in her development. She appeared in five games and although she did not earn a decision, Bishop allowed only two earned runs in 8.0 innings for a staff-best 1.75 ERA. She picked up one save and added five strikeouts while not allowing an earned run in four of her five appearances. Bishop again dedicated herself to her craft in the offseason and continues to improve. She will be expected to complement Edwards and Lockman to give NU one of the nation's top pitching staffs.
Nebraska boasts its deepest receiving corps in years this spring, but the group is once again headlined by senior Taylor Edwards, the only All-America catcher in school history. Behind Edwards, sophomore Sammi Noland returns for her second year, while freshman Austen Urness will also work behind the plate, in addition to the outfield.
One of the 25 finalists for USA Softball Player of the Year when she was selected as a third-team All-American in 2011, Edwards is one of the top defensive catchers in the country and one of the nation's top hitters regardless of position. Edwards has started 154 games behind the plate in her first three seasons. She enters her senior season with 36 career home runs and 159 RBIs to go along with a .320 batting average. Edwards will open the 2014 season ranked fifth nationally in career RBIs and eighth in career home runs. She has also drawn 109 career walks, a total that ranks fourth nationally among all active players in 2014.
Among the Husker record book, Edwards enters this spring third in school history in career home runs and fourth in RBIs, walks and slugging percentage (.610). One of only two players in school history to produce two 50-RBI seasons, several school records are within Edwards' reach in 2014. She would establish school career records with nine hit-by-pitches, 16 walks, 16 doubles, 18 home runs and 55 RBIs this spring. Edwards has averaged nine hit-by-pitches and 36 walks per season in her first three years, while she boasts career highs of 14 doubles, 18 home runs and 67 RBIs.
Edwards, a 2014 co-captain, already owns eight school records, including game records for most runs, RBIs, hit-by-pitches and grand slams, NU's season hit-by-pitch and grand slam records, the NU freshman home run record and junior RBI record. She also owns a share of two NCAA records, as she is one of three players in NCAA history to hit a home run in six consecutive games and one of four players to hit two grand slams in a game.
In addition to her offensive prowess, Edwards is also a terrific catcher, earning a spot on the Big Ten All-Defensive team in 2013. Also one of only five Big Ten players to be a unanimous All-Big Ten selection, Edwards has allowed just 69 stolen bases in 154 games caught - less than 0.5 stolen bases per game - while throwing out better than 30 percent of runners and adding 10 pickoffs, including a Big Ten-best seven pickoffs in 2014.
Playing behind the best catcher in school history, Noland saw limited action as a freshman. She appeared in 14 total games in 2013, including two appearances at catcher. Noland earned more playing time last fall in Nebraska's eight-game exhibition schedule against Division I opponents, making three starts and producing one hit and one RBI while posting a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage. Although her game day contributions were limited in 2013, Noland contributed extensively during bullpen sessions that helped develop a Husker pitching staff that ranked 15th nationally in ERA. Noland is expected to again be a key component of the pitching staff's development in 2014, when she could also see time as a pinch hitter or potentially at third base. Noland scored two runs and was hitless in six at bats during her freshman season.
Urness will also work at catcher, although the majority of her playing time is expected to come in the outfield. Urness has experience at both positions, and she served as the starting catcher for Lakeside High School in Lake Elsinore, Calif., where she was a three-time All-CIF Southern Section honoree, a two-time Sunbelt League MVP and a four-time first-team, all-league selection. Urness has the potential to add a big bat to the Husker lineup regardless of where she plays. She boasted a .474 career batting average in high school with 35 doubles, seven triples, 28 home runs and 122 RBIs.
Nebraska brings back three of its four infield starters from 2013. Junior Mattie Fowler returns for her second season as a co-captain at first base, while sophomores Hailey Decker (second base) and Alicia Armstrong (shortstop) are also back. Freshman MJ Knighten is the top candidate to start at third base, while sophomore Dawna Tyson will compete for a starting job after splitting time with Fowler at first base early last season.
Fowler was Nebraska's starting shortstop as a freshman in 2012, before making the move to first base as a sophomore in 2013, when she posted a .988 fielding percentage. A year of familiarity with the position should benefit Fowler this spring, as will a return to full health. Fowler suffered a torn ACL in the summer prior to her sophomore season, an injury that forced her to miss the entire fall and most of Nebraska's 2013 preseason practices. Playing at less than full strength the entire season, Fowler batted .236 with three doubles, four home runs and 21 RBIs. She was again one of the Huskers' top clutch hitters and served a key leadership role as co-captain on Nebraska's Women's College World Series squad. Fowler will again be counted on to provide leadership to a young Husker squad in 2014, while adding production to the Husker lineup.
At second base, Decker appears poised for a breakout sophomore season following an outstanding freshman campaign. As one of the nation's top recruits, Decker faced plenty of pressure last spring, and she responded well to the weight of expectations. The only freshman to start every game in 2013, Decker batted .244 and added 13 doubles, six home runs and 29 RBIs, and she was the toughest Husker to strikeout. Decker's 13 doubles were the third-most by a freshman in school history, while her six home runs and 29 RBIs both ranked eighth on Nebraska's all-time freshman chart. She improved throughout her freshman season, batting .293 during the Big Ten season. Decker also provided several big hits against top competition, homering against No. 2 Florida and No. 9 Michigan, while adding two doubles against third-ranked Oregon. A talented hitter, Decker showed continued improvement last fall during the Huskers' eight-game schedule against Division I opponents when she went 18-for-26 (.692).
Defensively, Decker committed only nine errors in 272 chances in 2013, while playing a key role in Nebraska turning 49 double plays, the third-highest total in NCAA history.
Teaming up with Decker for many of those double plays was Armstrong, a 2013 second-team All-Big Ten pick and the shortstop on the Big Ten All-Defensive Team. Armstrong produced a fantastic freshman campaign, leading Nebraska with a .346 batting average, a mark that was nearly 20 points higher than any other Husker. She was just the seventh freshman to lead NU in batting average and each of the last four freshmen to accomplish that feat went on to earn All-America honors in their careers.
A tough out at the plate, Armstrong possesses the coveted combination of speed and power. She beat out 19 infield singles and stole seven bases last spring, while also adding 10 doubles and four home runs. Her speed also translates into outstanding range at short, where she fielded the most chances by a shortstop in school history and posted the second-best fielding percentage (.953) by a shortstop in program history.
Armstrong is a key piece both offensively and defensively for a Husker team that has expectations of making it back to the Women's College World Series for a second straight year. She missed the entire fall season with a back injury, and the injury could limit Armstrong's abilities and production this spring.
Rounding out the projected starting infield is Knighten, who earned second-team All-America honors as a high school senior. Knighten started all eight games at third in Nebraska's fall exhibition season and played against some of the nation's top competition with the Corona Angels. That experience should aide her development as she is thrust into a starting role as a freshman. Offensively, Knighten owned a .456 career batting average for Sunny Hill High School, and she slugged 30 doubles and 28 home runs, while producing 81 RBIs. During the fall season, Knighten recorded six hits and five RBIs in eight games. A terrific athlete, Knighten also has the ability to develop into an outstanding defender.
Three other underclassmen will compete for playing time on the infield. Tyson highlights that group, as she will work at first base in addition to being a leading candidate to be Nebraska's designated player. Tyson started 29 total games as a freshman in 2013, including nine starts at first base. She batted .264 on the season with a .374 on-base percentage, three homers and 16 RBIs.
Sophomore Sammi Noland will push Knighten for playing time at third base in addition to her role at catcher. Third base is a new position for Noland, who began working on the infield last fall. Noland went hitless in six at bats during her freshman season, but she possesses a powerful bat.
Freshman Rachel Arthur is the final Husker who figures to play into the infield rotation. Arthur will work at both second base and shortstop, and she could be poised for a prominent role depending on Armstrong's health. With Armstrong out during the fall, Arthur started five games at shortstop and did not commit an error. Arthur was only in the batting order for one of those five starts, but she proved her ability with the bat by earning all-state honors in both her junior and senior seasons for Lincoln Pius X High School. A Lincoln native whose father serves as Nebraska's Director of Strength and Conditioning, Arthur will likely see time as a pinch runner in addition to her role as a middle infielder.
The outfield features the most competition for playing time in 2014, as the Huskers must replace a pair of all-conference outfielders from last spring. Sophomore Kiki Stokes is the lone returning starter, as she earned 58 outfield starts as a freshman in 2013, including 45 starts in center and 13 in left. While Stokes appears to have a firm grasp on the starting role in center field, junior Kylee Muir and freshmen Austen Urness and Kat Woolman will compete for the two corner outfield spots.
Stokes appeared in all but one game and started all but three contests as a freshman, when she spent the majority of the season as Nebraska's center fielder and leadoff hitter. A speedy slapper, Stokes posted a .264 batting average and scored 40 runs last spring. As is the case for the majority of freshman slappers, Stokes had to adjust to the speed of the college game, particularly the quickness and strong arms of infield defenders. With a year under her belt, Stokes could be poised to improve upon a .403 on-base percentage that ranked third on the team in 2013. Stokes also led NU with 13 stolen bases last spring - the sixth-highest total by a freshman in school history - and she added a power dimension to her game by producing two home runs.
A fifth-year junior, Muir has moved to the outfield this spring. After redshirting in her first season with the program in 2010, Muir spent the next three years as a backup at first base, although all of her playing time came as the designated player or as a pinch hitter. Muir batted .293 with three doubles, a homer and six RBIs in 41 at bats last season in the most extensive playing time of her career. Voted by her teammates as Nebraska's Lifter of the Year in each of the past two seasons, Muir has worked to put herself in a position to be a full-time starter this spring. Nebraska had been trying to find a way to get Muir's powerful bat into the lineup, and the Husker coaching staff hopes the move to the outfield allows them to do just that.
Urness is expected to see the majority of her playing time in the outfield this season, although she will also serve as a backup catcher behind senior All-American Taylor Edwards and sophomore Sammi Noland. Urness has extensive experience at both positions with her high school and club teams. A three-time All-CIF selection for Lakeside High School in Lake Elsinore, Calif., Urness posted an impressive .474 career batting average with 35 doubles, 28 home runs and 122 RBIs. A two-time league player of the year, Urness possesses good power and a consistent approach at the plate. She started four games in the outfield during Nebraska's fall season.
Woolman is another freshman with an excellent chance to earn a starting outfield spot. A Lincoln native, Woolman originally committed to Arkansas before switching to Nebraska. She made an immediate impact during the Huskers' eight-game fall schedule against Division I opponents, when she batted .412 (7-for-17) with a double and an RBI in six starts. A natural infielder, Woolman moved to the outfield during the fall to not only help the team, but to also give her the best chance to compete for playing time. She was primarily a second baseman for Lincoln Pius X High School, which won the Class B state championship in 2012, when Woolman batted .542 and was named honorary captain of the Lincoln Journal Star Super State team. Overall, Woolman batted .470 in her prep career with 39 doubles, 20 home runs and a state-record 128 RBIs.
Freshman Lotte Sjulin will also work in the Husker outfield this spring, in addition to playing a prominent role as a pinch runner. Sjulin earned Nebraska Class B all-state honors as a senior for Douglas County West/Concordia, when she batted .444. A Nebraska Coaches Association All-Star, Sjulin saw action in seven of Nebraska's eight fall games. She fielded her only chance in the outfield and scored seven runs as the Huskers' top pinch runner, a role she is expected to carry over into the spring.
Senior All-American Tatum Edwards could also figure into the outfield rotation when she's not in the circle. Edwards, who has made 11 outfield starts in her career, started five games in left field in 2013, when she batted .286 with 11 doubles, 11 home runs and 26 RBIs. Edwards was just the sixth player in school history to produce double-digit home runs and doubles in the same season. In her career, Edwards owns a .291 average with 28 doubles, 32 home runs and 106 RBIs.
Several candidates will have the opportunity to be Nebraska's designated player in 2014, including sophomore Dawna Tyson and freshmen Austen Urness and Kat Woolman. Senior All-American Tatum Edwards will also figure into the mix when she is not pitching for the Huskers.
Edwards has started 70 games as Nebraska's designated player over the past three seasons, while also hitting for herself in her 61 starts in the circle. She batted .286 with 11 doubles, 11 homers and 26 RBIs last spring, posting a career-best .600 slugging percentage. She ranks fifth in school history with 32 career home runs and is sixth with a .564 career slugging percentage. Edwards is also on the verge of moving into Nebraska's all-time top 10 in doubles, RBIs and total bases.
Tyson started 20 games as Nebraska's designated player among her 29 total starts in 2013. She batted .264 in her freshman season, adding three home runs and 16 RBIs while posting a .374 on-base percentage thanks to eight hit-by-pitches, which tied for the 10th-highest total in school history and the second-best mark by a Husker freshman. In addition to earning playing time as the designated player, Tyson will also compete for the starting job at first base with junior Mattie Fowler.
Both Urness and Woolman will primarily compete for a starting spot in the outfield, but the freshmen are also candidates to earn playing time as the designated player thanks to their hitting abilities. Urness hit .474 in her high school career with 35 doubles, seven triples, 28 home runs, 122 RBIs, 97 runs scored and a .928 slugging percentage. Woolman posted a .470 career batting average for Lincoln Pius X High School, slugging 39 doubles and 20 home runs, while scoring 114 runs. She also drove in 128 runs in her career, establishing a Nebraska high school record for career RBIs.