Midway through their 2004 campaign, the University of Chicago women's softball team is off to the best start in the program's 36-year history with a record of 11-2.
Led by excellent pitching and a consistent offense, the team stormed through their spring break trip in Tucson, Arizona, to earn their national ranking at number 21.
The team took advantage of excellent weather and new opponents in Arizona. "One advantage of the trip was our exposure to good teams from all around the country," head coach Ruth Kmak said. "It gave us a good feel of the national scene this year. It also allowed us to focus just on softball, without the stress of academics. The team had a great chance to bond and we got to see how we play together on the field."
Key to the Maroon's success has been the pitching of All-American second-year Hannah Roberts. After setting a school record last year with an ERA of 0.61, Roberts has upped the ante, pitching to an incredible ERA of 0.27 and a 7-1 record. Roberts has been dominant on the mound, striking out 67 batters in 51.2 innings.
In addition to Roberts, the Maroon pitching staff has benefited from the arrival of first-years Petra Wade and Lauren Hula. Each has achieved an ERA of just over 1.00 to give Chicago an overall staff ERA of 0.64. The two new additions have completed the dangerous Maroon pitching staff.
Offensively, third-year catcher and outfielder Annie Yaniga has hit .410 so far to lead the team with 15 RBI. Coach Kmak identifies her as perhaps the most important offensive component of the Maroons this year. Also contributing offensively is Roberts, who has hit .444 with 8 RBIs on the season. Second-years Rachael Cohen and Katie Fuhr are two solid batters who keep the Maroon offense consistent.
After returning from a tiring trip, the softball team jumped right back into action at home. On Monday, the Maroons split a doubleheader against Hope College. In the first game, Yaniga opened the game with a first-inning, two-run homer, providing Chicago with all the offense they would need. Roberts took over, allowing one run on 3 hits and 12 strikeouts.
The second game provided a shock as Chicago was blanked 6-0 in a one-hit performance by second-year Hope pitcher Rebecca Whitman. Chicago's sole hit came from second-year catcher Randi Leppla in the third inning of the game.
On Tuesday, Chicago prevailed 8-0 after a game-ending grand slam by Cohen in the bottom of the sixth inning. Cohen's home run, the first of her career, ended the game as a result of the run-ahead rule. Roberts threw a one-hitter and raised her record to 7-1 in her fourth shutout of the season. The win was the 21st of her career, which has put her in sixth place on the school's all-time list. Cohen's five RBI were the most of any Chicago player all season.
Today, Chicago faces off against University of Wisconsin-Lacrosse (5-8) in their last home game before a road trip takes them to University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh and Illinois Wesleyan this weekend.
Chicago faces the disadvantage of not playing in a conference, which forces the Maroons to schedule games in an unorthodox manner. In fact, two-thirds of the Maroons' regular season will be over after Sunday.
The Maroons have high expectations after last year's success that took them all the way to the NCAA Division III regional finals. "I fully expect us to go as far as we did last season," Coach Kmak said.
"I want us to do three things: learn throughout the season, come out and play every single game consistently by not playing down to our opponents, and go as far as we did last year."