Improvement has characterized the Kalamazoo College softball team's efforts the last two seasons under the direction of third-year head coach Melanie Rushing, and heading into 2017, improvement is expected once again but to an even greater degree.
"We've definitely made strides in the past two years, but I'm expecting a significant step up this year," said Rushing. "Our leadership is fantastic. The entire group is completely on board with each other, with the program—they are pumped and unafraid which is really cool to see."
Finishing sixth in the MIAA in 2016, the Hornets put the top teams in the MIAA on notice last season pushing Alma to extra innings and losing by just two runs to Trine. Both the Scots and Thunder made the NCAA Tournament.
"For the team to see that it is possible, that they are that close, gives us this belief that we definitely can do this," Rushing said. "Now that we have that experience, they're taking it to the next level this year. They're working incredibly hard."
Headlining the returners in 2017 is All-MIAA First Team selection Erin DuRoss. A captain last season, DuRoss recorded a 2.67 ERA on the rubber while tossing 128.2 innings of work and 14 complete games. Offensively, she led the Hornets with a .355 batting average, 26 RBI and 10 doubles.
With Andrea MacMichael and Nori Seita also returning along-side DuRoss, the Hornets return their top three run producers from 2016. MacMichael drove in 11 runs and scored 17 while batting .304 as a freshman. Seita, who played her first season with K as a transfer last season, knocked in 10 runs and batted .280. She also won two games on the rubber for K.
Isabella Kirck will look to continue jumpstarting the Hornets batting order this season after hitting .339 and scoring a team-high 18 runs despite missing time late in the season. She stole a team-high 17 bags.
The level of talent excites Rushing, but the leadership displayed this offseason shows even more promise.
"Erin has been a great leader and has continued that leadership through her captaincy from last year. Kayla Dziadzio has been stepping up. They've really done a good job getting the girls together before we started, especially in that January block when we're here forever but I can't help them out, so we really hit the ground running."
The 2017 season gets underway Friday, Feb. 17 as the Hornets travel to the Legacy Center in Brighton, Mich. to take on Concordia University-Ann Arbor and Cleary University.
"We want to set the tone and come out hard, guns blazing," Rushing said. "We want to really show what this team's going to be about this year, get ahead early and hopefully see everyone on the field in one day."
The Hornets will take a trip down to Florida from March 16-21 before beginning MIAA play on April 1 at St. Mary's.