By Andrew Nelson, Contributor
The Omaha softball team is gearing up for their final season as a transition Division-I program.
This is the last season the Mavericks’ hard work will go almost unnoticed to softball fans outside the state and Summit League territory. This is also the final season for seniors Allie Mathewson, Tonya Peterson, Kat Barrow and incoming Michigan State transfer Carly Nielsen.
The Lady Mavs will look to continue where they left off last season on a four-game winning streak, going 9-1 in their final 10 games. They finished 33-16, 12-6 in Summit League play, which also included an impressive road win over a 19th ranked Nebraska squad.
Last season was Omaha’s second 30-win season in just its third year competing against a full slate of D-I teams under head coach Jeanne Scarpello.
Scarpello enters her 16th year coaching the Maverick softball team and she’s seen quite a bit of success at the helm here in Omaha. She helped lead the University of Nebraska at Omaha to a 2001 D-II National Championship and 12 consecutive NCAA D-II tournaments through 2011 which was part of a 22 year streak that ended when UNO made the jump to the D-I level.
She has the winningest all-time record of any UNO coach with a 632-204-1 record and she’s the only coach at UNO to reach 600 wins in any sport so far. Scarpello’s impressive winning percentage of.756 is the 25th best all-time across all NCAA divisions and sixth-best in the NCAA among active coaches.
Scarpello will be assisted by coaches Cory Petermann, in his 15th year at UNO, and volunteer assistant Jeff Briley. Graduate assistant and former South Dakota softball stand-out Lindsey Boyd will also assist the team this season.
Undergraduate assistant and former Maverick Amber Lutmer, whose bat was a big part of Omaha’s success last season, will also assist Coach Scarpello this year.
The departure of last year’s ace Dana Elsasser, who had a hand in 27 of Omaha’s 33 wins last season,is a hole that will have to be filled early on. Senior Barrow went 1-6 in seven starts a year ago, and junior outfielder Lizzie Noble went 1-2 in three starts in the circle last season.
This is the last of the pitching experience from a season ago, but senior transfer Nielsen is surely to add as park to the Maverick pitching rotation. The Spartans recruited herout of Blair, Nebraska four years ago as a pitcher before she transitioned to batting and the outfield in her time in East Lansing.
Her return to Nebraska will hopefully have an immediate impact on this season’s pitching game since she is already cleared to play the upcoming season.
Returning starters from last season include senior centerfielder Mathewson who led the team with a .366 batting average and 13 doubles last year. Senior shortstop Peterson also returns and is looking for a bounce-back season after a fractured bone near her eye cut her season short a year ago.
Junior third basemen SydneyHames and junior infielder Tara Trede will also return this season. Fellow junior Campbell Ditto will be back behind the plate this season as well, and classmate Bailey Schulenberg, who saw limited action last year, will be looking to step-up this season in the outfield.
Sophomores Lia Mancuso andNoble will be looking to return for another year covering the outfield. The two combined for 64 hits in last year’s line-up. Sophomore Nicole Warren will also be looking to assist the infield this season after she started 16 and played in 34 total games a year ago.
Newcomers this season consist off our freshmen and two transfers, Nielsen and Butler Community College (Kansas) transfer Abbie Clanton. The right-handed pitcherfrom Ozark, Missouri appeared in 16 games and started one in her freshmen season with the Grizzles. Freshmen Kylie Schwarting is an Omaha native from Papillion La-Vista who will be looking to make her mark in either the infield or outfield in her future career here.
Megan May and Jaylee Hinrichs, both Lincoln, Nebraska natives and former teammates at Lincoln Southeast high school, join the Maverick squad this season as well. Hinrichs was an all-state and super-state pitcher, and May was Hinrichs’s high school catcher who was also chosen as super-state for her position.
The lone member of this season’s freshmen class who doesn’t hail from the state of Nebraska is Kelly Pattison from Lockport, Illinois. Pattison helped lead her high school team to a 27-9 record and regional championship last season in centerfield.
The Lady Mavs kick their season off Feb. 6 for a weekend tournament in Hammond, Louisiana.They are scheduled to play the University of Tennessee-Martin in their opening game of the Tangi Tourism Lion Classic at 3:30 p.m.
The road is where the Mavs will spend the majority of the first part of the season. They will travel to Durham, North Carolina the following weekend for the North Carolina Central Tournament, and Oxford, Mississippi for the Red & Blue Classic hosted by Ole Miss the weekend after that.
The Omaha softball team is also scheduled to travel to Orlando, Florida for the Diamond 9 Citrus Classic to play a slate full of large division-one programs including Georgia, Minnesota, and PennState to name a few in the tournament.
The Mavs leave the south for the Colorado State Classic in Fort Collins, Colorado the first weekend in March, and finish up their tournament schedule the following week in Lawrence, Kansas at the Jayhawk Invitational.
The Mavericks will finally return to Omaha for their home opener March 17 at Westside Field at Westbrook for a double-header with Northern Colorado set to start at 1 p.m. Omaha is scheduled for 18 conference games this season including three home games against the three-time reigning Summit League softball champions, North Dakota State March 28 and 29.
The final transition season is just about underway and by this time next year, not only will the Omaha softball team, but all of Omaha’s teams will be competing for Summit League championships.
Omaha softball has shown its competitiveness the past few seasons in the success it has had inside and outside of the conference against other D-1 teams, but this season will show that Omaha is ready for the challenge once again and even more ready to start playing for championships next season.