By Chris McBride
A historic run for the Youngstown State University Softball team has expectations at a high coming into the new campaign. The recent Horizon League Preseason Coaches Poll predicts the Penguins to finish second on the year behind University of Illinois at Chicago, last year’s regular season and tourney champions.
Despite the high praises for the team, YSU Head Coach Brian Campbell isn’t deterred by season projections. Instead, Campbell sees the predictions as something for his group of girls to build upon in the new season.
“It’s about where you finish at the end of the year,” Campbell said, whose team is coming off a 31-28 season and second place in the tourney. “That’s definitely a credit and something they should be proud of that. They also know it’s not where you started but where you finish.”
Approaching his 10th year as coach at YSU, Campbell is experiencing the most success of his tenure over the last few seasons. He has an opportunity to cement himself in Penguins history as he is seven wins from 208 wins all-time as YSU’s Head Coach. That would put him in first place in YSU history.
He also needs 14 wins to get 500 career wins, a feat that would see him eclipsing the record set by Hall of Fame Coach Ed Strauss in 1985-95.
With a strong crop of players making their way back this season, it’s a goal largely within reach for Campbell. The Penguins will be returning 14 letter winners from that second place team of last year.
“It’s always a good thing when we have so many returners, we also have a strong group of freshman who will help out tremendously this year,” senior Stevie Taylor said, who’s returning after starting in 58 games last season.
Those highlighting the upperclassmen include:
Senior outfielder Hannah Lucas who was named All-Horizon League First-Team last season, Lucas led the team batting a .339 average with 20 stolen bases.
Senior Cali Mikovich will look to continue her climb up seven different top 10 statistical categories on YSUs All-Time leaders lists. Heading into the season she’s two more hits away from being top 10 in hits.
Junior pitcher Paige Geanangel, who was once named Horizon League All-Freshman, is currently nearing an YSU top 10 milestone with two more wins separating her from trying for 10th in wins.
Adding to a strong crop of returnees, four freshman players will be looking to make an impact as well.
“It’s about the adjustment when you come in as a freshman but some freshman have been able to do some great stuff for us in the past,” Campbell said.
Hoping to add to that tradition is Elle Buffenbarger, a Mason High School graduate who will be joining last year’s freshman sensation Maddi Lusk and Geanangel in the pitcher’s circle.
Buffenbarger was described as a difference maker by Campbell due to her unique style of pitching.
“She throws a variety of pitches, she throws the lower ball and she’s able to come up with the rise ball,” Campbell said. “I think all three of them have a great mix of pitches.”
The Penguins will have to wait awhile before playing on their newly refinished field, because a 23-game road stretch down south will keep the team homesick for a while. However, the long road trips are taken in stride by a team using the moments to build togetherness.
“It prepares us very well for coming back home and starting our season here,” Taylor said. “I enjoy it and I think the competition is great down south.”
Heading into the year, Campbell expects to produce a faster team with more power factored into their lineup. He’ll get a chance to display this new system come this weekend as the team heads into tourney play.
Youngstown State will travel to Boiling Springs, NC to open the season against Hampton on Feb. 9 in the Gardner-Webb Tournament at 10 a.m.