It’s almost silly in college athletics these days to even try to look ahead at the prospects of next season shortly after a season ends.
But it’s also only natural to at least ponder the possibilities.
One year after UL’s 2020 softball season came to an abrupt ending because of the coronavirus shutdown, the 2021 campaign ended in disappointing fashion in the finals of the Baton Rouge regional.
“I think this team was good enough,” UL coach Gerry Glasco said. “We just didn’t score enough runs. Then when our pitching was bad, it was really bad.”
No matter how you slice it, the 2022 spring season will be a transition year for the program.
So many of the names that dominated this year’s lineups will be gone, as well as some reserves.
The list of departing seniors is a daunting one with: Summer Ellyson, Ciara Bryan, Justice Milz, Alissa Dalton, Julie Rawls, Kaitlyn Alderink and Jade Gortarez.
Underclassmen not expected to return include Carrie Boswell, Kyleigh Sand and Bailey Curry.
As troubling as those lists are, there’s no reason for UL softball fans to throw their hands up in disgust.
Don’t forget top hitters Raina O’Neal and Taylor Roman are expected back, not to mention an elite incoming signing class.
And with the transfer portal, there’s no telling when a transfer could be added.
“It’s tricky (with transfers),” Glasco said. “It’s not hard when you get blue-chippers. Like (Texas pitcher) Sam Landry is a blue chipper, no doubt in my mind. (West Monroe's) Maddie Hayden is a blue-chip recruit. She could go to an SEC school and start next year.
“But it’s difficult for most recruits to compete against a sophomore transfer with college experience.”
So while Glasco maintains his first priority is to groom four-year performers, ignoring the transfer portal just isn’t a responsible option in 2021.
During his past season, for example, UL added Texas A&M transfer utility Jourdyn Campbell and Kentucky pitcher Meghan Schorman. Campbell hit .329 in 26 starts with the Aggies two years ago, and Schorman was 7-1 with a 1.30 ERA in 2020 for the Wildcats.
As difficult as this guessing game is, let’s get to that way-too-early look at the 2022 softball team.
Kandra Lamb and Landry are the best early bets to compete for weekend rotation. Lamb opened many eyes with the three-hit shutout of LSU in the regional.
“I thought Kandra Lamb showed that she could be an All-American pitcher,” Glasco said. “She has a really good presence. She doesn’t get nervous, much like Summer. It’s almost like she’s emulating Summer.
“Going into next year, I think our team will absolutely view Kandra Lamb as the ace going into fall.”
The hopes for Landry, whom Glasco describes as “a fielding wizard” in the circle, are extremely high to go along with Schorman and returnees like Vanessa Foreman and Casey Dixon.
“I think our pitching is going to be better than it was this year,” Glasco said.
Elsewhere, go ahead and pencil in Roman at first base, Kendall Talley in left, O’Neal in center and Sophie Piskos at catcher for now. Depending on how much progress she makes at the plate, expect Melissa Mayeux to start somewhere as well.
Glasco was impressed with how she filled in for Dalton at shortstop defensively late in the season.
Other options at shortstop could be junior-college speedster Rebeca Laudino, who might have been at UL already if not for the pandemic; Texas prep star Alexa Langeliers; or Campbell.
Campbell is also an option at second or the outfield.
Don’t be surprised if third base is a huge issue again. Texas prep slugger Elia Hebel is an option there, if not at designated player to get her power bat in the lineup, as well as any of the middle infield options.
The dark-horse candidate could be Piskos, whose energy plays anywhere, but the depth chart at catcher would have to be bolstered before that move could be made.
As for the one outfield spot left, Hayden is probably the best current guess to get her speed on the field, but don’t count out Jenna Kean and Frankie Izard if they can get healthy enough.
Again, it’s far too early to get overly excited or depressed about next season. The wounds from this spring haven’t even healed yet.
No one should expect any preseason top 10 accolades in late January.
But you know what? Perhaps what this program needs is to embrace the underdog role again anyway.