By Carlos Toro
The Broncs introduced its rookie coach Jaclyn Timko last season and now they are ready to contend for a conference tournament spot. Here are my predictions for the 2017 MAAC softball season.
1. Marist (Last season, 45-13, 16-4 MAAC)
Key Player: Sophomore Claire Oberdorf
Key Pitcher: Senior Jayne Oberdorf
En route to winning the MAAC Championship last season, the Red Foxes were a team with the perfect mix of offense and pitching, leading the MAAC in various categories. Claire Oberdorf’s numbers as a freshman last season were exemplary, and her sister Jayne returns to a pitching staff that ranked third in the MAAC last season in team ERA.
2. Monmouth (29-21, 13-7 MAAC)
Key Player: Senior Justene Reyes
Key Pitcher: Junior Amanda Riley
The Hawks were two outs away from winning the MAAC Championship in 2016. Justene Reyes had a career year last season, hitting for a .342 batting average, clobbering nine home runs and driving in 46 runs. As a second year starter, Amanda Riley pitched 11 complete games, won 11 games, had a 2.78 ERA and is looking to make an even bigger impact in her third year.
3. Fairfield (27-23, 12-8 MAAC)
Key Player: Senior Tori Reed
Key Pitcher: Junior Destinee
After winning 15 conference games in 2014 and 2015, the Stags’ conference win total last season dipped a bit, but they were still among the best in the MAAC. With the departure of starting pitcher Lauren Falkanger, Pallotto is the lone returning pitcher with double-digit starts and Fairfield will be led by Reed, who is the Stags’ lone All-MAAC Preseason Team selection, behind the plate.
4. Manhattan (30-21, 14-6 MAAC)
Key Player: Junior Shannon Puthe
Key Pitcher: Junior Briana
The Jaspers will continue to surge after a second-place, regular-season finish in 2016 because they have several key players returning. Shannon Puthe led Manhattan in batting average, runs scored, doubles, triples and finished one stolen base short of the single-season program record. Briana Matazinsky has been a mainstay for the Jaspers since her first year, being on the MAAC All-Rookie team in 2015 and All-MAAC First Team in 2016.
5. Canisius (23-32, 13-7 MAAC)
Key Player: Junior Moriah Harris
Key Pitcher: Junior Erika Mackie
Moriah Harris made massive leaps from her freshman year to her sophomore year and is primed to be a power threat for this team, while Erika Mackie is the Golden Griffins’ main starter, who will look to add to her 25 career games. It’ll be hard, but not impossible for this team to come back and be the conference’s top team.
6. Quinnipiac (28-29, 11-9 MAAC)
Key Player: Sophomore Taylor Trojan
Key Pitcher: Junior Casey Herzog
From 18 wins in 2015 to 28 wins last season, it seems Quinnipiac’s stock will continue rising. While Taylor Trojan didn’t get as many at-bats as a freshman, she could provide a huge boost to this team with more playing time. She led the team in batting average and slugging percentage last year and Casey Herzog, as the only returning upperclassman pitcher, will anchor this pitching staff.
7. Iona (13-33, 7-13 MAAC)
Key Player: Senior Kristen Turner
Key Pitcher: Junior Jessica Harkness
Now that Kristen Turner is a senior, she’ll be leading this group after a disappointing year that had the Gaels’ conference win total decrease by five from 2015 to 2016. Jessica Harkness went from rarely used reliever to one of the team’s starters and now will be among the top two starters of this year’s Iona team.
8. Rider (8-42, 5-15 MAAC)
Key Player: Junior Toni Nino
Key Pitcher: Senior Megan Ailand
In year two of Timko’s head coaching regime, the Broncs have a lot to prove, and this is a young, hungry team looking to make big improvements in all facets of the game. Rider lost several key players from last year’s team, but Toni Nino, who was second on the team last year in batting average, is now the team’s top offensive weapon, while Megan Ailand returns as its top pitcher.
9. Siena (25-22, 10-10 MAAC)
Key Player: Junior Paige Hess
Key Pitcher: Junior Lauren Butts
After being tied for the best conference record in the 2013 season, Siena has not been able to recapture that same magic. Hess was named to the 2016 All-MAAC Second Team after batting .325 with 28 RBI and five home runs with a .525 slugging percentage, and Butts, who won 11 games last year, will return as the team’s top starter.
10. Niagara (10-38, 8-12 MAAC)
Key Player: Senior Sarah March
Key Pitcher: Sophomore Sierra Bertrand
Niagara doubled its conference win total from 2015 to 2016, but still finished in eighth place last season. Sarah March, who was among the top offensive players in the MAAC last year, is among several senior returning starters looking to make their marks on this team in their final year. The Purple Eagles do have Sierra Bertrand, who, in her freshman year, became the team’s top pitcher.
11. Saint Peter’s (1-42, 1-19 MAAC)
Key Player: Senior Samantha Storms
Key Pitcher: Sophomore Tiffani Lambert
It’s hard to imagine the Peacocks doing any worse than they did last year, but they will likely not be immediate contenders in 2017. Samantha Storms, who batted .292 with 31 hits, 10 runs scored, eight doubles and five homers, is the team’s top returning batter, and Tiffani Lambert gained a lot of experience as a freshman, leading the team in innings pitched.