MITCHELL, S.D. – After recording a program-best 33 wins last season, DWU head softball coach Ed Kieff has been preparing his 2017 squad to take the next step in a highly-competitive conference.
The Tigers were picked to finish fourth in the Great Plains Athletic Conference Preseason Poll, but after setting eight new team records in 2016, Kieff believes his team is on the brink of another successful season. DWU set the all-time record for wins (33), hits (485), runs (273), doubles (101), home runs (37), slugging percentage (.468), batting average (.319) and fielding percentage (.954).
Despite losing three-time All-GPAC, NAIA All-American and CoSIDA Academic All-American performer Hailey Unger, who also holds five records at DWU, the Tigers welcome back a plethora of second-year players who saw quality innings last season. Paige Kinley (Worthington, Minn.), Andriana Sprakel (Yankton, S.D.), Katelyne Dougherty (Maui, Hawaii), Claudia Nixon (Shaunavon, Saskatchewan, Canada) and Karly Severance (Las Vegas, Nev.) are all second-year members that are expected to contribute when the Tigers take the field on Saturday when they battle the University of Jamestown in the PC Dome Classic at 10 a.m. in Aberdeen, S.D.
"Up and down, our lineup is going to be pretty tough to deal with," Kieff said. "We have some lofty goals and we are really trying to keep our nose to the grindstone and keep our work ethic where it needs to be."
On the mound, the Tigers return Second Team All-GPAC member Sierra Haage (Sioux Falls, S.D.) As a freshman, Haage posted a 15-7 record in 23 games started to go along with a 2.49 ERA in 149 innings pitched. The sophomore also hit .343 with 15 doubles and was tied for second on the team with six home runs.
Senior Lorissa Loeppky (Winnipeg, Manitoba, Canada) gives the Tigers a solid option on the mound as well. Loeppky posted a 5-4 record with a 3.08 ERA in 66 innings, she also hit .282 in 39 at-bats.
"Lorissa is one of our senior's this year and has been a workhorse for us every year she has been here," Kieff said.
Fellow senior Elise Sutherland (Stansbury, Utah) has been a solid role player for the Tigers as she hit .261 in 27 games last season.
"Elise is a solid hitter and has been working hard and we are excited because she has a powerful bat," Kieff said.
Severance also returns as a second-year member and provides a powerful bat to the lineup, while giving the Tigers a strong defensive option at the corner positions. Last season, Severance hit .302, while starting in 42 games and hit six home runs. She also had a .986 fielding percentage, with just four errors in 281 chances.
Possibly one of the more exciting things to watch according to Kieff is the talent level of the freshman that will get quality playing time in the Tucson Invitational, where the Tigers went 9-1 a season ago.
Freshman Melysia Ortega (West Covina, Calif.) is expected to take over for Unger as she earned four varsity letters for the South Hills Huskies and brings a powerful bat to the Tiger lineup.
"Melysia has a good stick and is going to fit right in for Unger and then some because she is an all-around solid player," Kieff said.
The Tigers play two games on Saturday, followed by three games on Sunday. On Feb. 19, the Tigers return to Aberdeen for three more games in the PC Dome Classic. Two weeks later, the Tigers will embark on their yearly journey to Tucson, Ariz., where they will play 17 games in six days from March 4-9. Kieff and Co. welcome Presentation College on March 19 for the first home game of the season, before taking off to play Briar Cliff University for the conference opener on March 21.