First-year Stanford softball head coach Rachel Hanson understands the challenge ahead of her. It's one of the reasons she wanted to coach at the school.
A flurry of bad luck and injuries sabotaged the Cardinal last year, despite producing one of its top offensive teams in school history. Stanford missed the postseason for the first time in 16 years; all under former coach John Rittman.
Hanson, meanwhile, led Dartmouth to its first ever Ivy League title and a spot in the postseason. Hanson also directed the softball program at the University of Dallas to its best season in school history.
"This is where I always wanted to be," Hanson said. "I love coaching intelligent women and being in the hunt for a national championship. I got here in a fun way."
She graduated from Trinity College in 2005, the year Stanford won its only conference title, after helping the Tigers win a conference title. She still holds Trinity's record for most games started (156).
Hanson assumes leadership of a team that returns its top 10 offensive players and its top pitcher.
Last year's Cardinal team set a single-season school record for RBI (302), was second in runs (331), batting average (.316) and slugging percentage (.450) and third in doubles (88) and triples (17).
Sophomore pitcher Madi Schreyer was thrust into the unenviable position of having to assume most of the innings pitched last year. She's better prepared for it this season.
"She shouldered the load last year and learned a lot from it," Hanson said. "It will be exciting to watch her this season."
Freshman Haley Spencer, who accumulated some impressive pitching and offensive numbers while playing at Christian Brothers High in Sacramento, joins Schreyer.
"She will have to immediately jump in and play like a veteran," Hanson said of Spencer, who also first base. "She's a quality pitcher with a great mentality."
Stanford had a pitcher transfer out of the school following her freshman season for a second straight year. Carly Hoover, a South Carolina native and considered the top recruit out of high school, transferred to LSU during the summer.
Hoover won her first two decisions during last year's opening weekend and then missed the rest of the season with a pectoral injury, which is usually associated with weight-lifting and/or throwing a ball side-armed.
Kelsey Stevens transferred to Oklahoma following an All-Pac-12 freshman season in 2013 with the Cardinal.
The combination of Stevens' transfer, Hoover's injury and pitcher Nyree White leaving the team for personal reasons put a strain on Schreyer, who threw 242 1/3 innings and
appeared in 47 of the team's 55 games last spring.
Four position players were asked to pitch, without much preparation time. Kylie Sorenson and Tylyn Wells once again will be called upon for innings, though they've had plenty of time to get ready.
Sorenson, a sophomore, hit a team-high .363 last year. Wells, one of six seniors, hit .317. Fellow seniors Leah White (.356), Erin Ashby (.342) and Hanna Winter (.333) followed Sorenson. Junior Kayla Bonstrom (.333) was another of the six hitters over .300.
Senior Cassandra Roulund hit .290, with 15 doubles and 38 RBI. Alyssa Lombardo batted .500 in limited appearances.
"I am so proud of the seniors for their commitment to using tough times for good," Hanson said. "Last year was an opportunity to learn things and grow."
Stanford (30-25 overall, 5-19 in the Pac-12) won its first 13 games last year before things turned. Even with all the struggles in conference play, Stanford managed wins over No. 2 UCLA and No. 10 Washington. The Cardinal also lost in extra innings to nationally-ranked Arizona and Arizona State, both on the road.
"It's great to build off that," Hanson said. "We have great returners on the offensive side and we have that to rely on. But offense is streaky and we'll have to play better defense."
Stanford, which opened its season Thursday against Virginia at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz., was picked by coaches to finish ninth in the nine-team Pac-12.
"We're trying to make sure the culture is in the right place," Hanson said. "We're focused on the process. I'd like to see resiliency and a relentlessness in bouncing back from failure."
This season, the Cardinal will play eight teams currently ranked in the top 25, including No. 2 Oregon and No. 3 Alabama, and 14 teams that appeared in last year's NCAA tournament.
"The blueprint for excellence is to be the best version of yourself," Hanson said. "To be the best, you have to play the best and you have to beat the best."
Bonstrom led the team with 44 RBI last year, while fellow juniors Jessica Plaza and Kaitlin Schaberg were two of the top defensive players. Plaza and Ashby shared the team lead in home runs, each with six.
Schreyer and Sorenson lead a strong sophomore class that also includes Bessie Noll and Lauren Bertoy.
In addition to Snyder, Hanson also like what she sees from freshmen Whitney Burks, Kaitlyn Lagattuta, Victoria Molina, Adren Pettit, Savannah Schulze and Lauren Wegner.
"Some of the freshmen are in the mix and pushing for spots," Hanson said. "I'm also excited that they will get to learn from the seniors."
Hanson brought assistant coach Dorian Shaw (Michigan, 2011) with her from Dartmouth and coaxed former All-American Megan Langenfeld, a national team player, to join her from Arkansas.
OK, so Langenfeld, raised in Bakersfield and a UCLA grad, didn't need that much coaxing.
"She wanted to get back to California," Hanson said of her pitching coach.
Langenfeld helped the Bruins win the 2010 national title. She hit .706 (12 for 17) and was 3-0 in the Women's College World Series. Langenfeld was 53-9 with a 1.42 ERA at UCLA.
Hanson had never been to Northern California before beginning the hiring process. She's like to make it her home.
2015 STANFORD SOFTBALL SCHEDULE
Date Opponent Time
Friday *CSUN 1 p.m.
Friday *North Carolina 5:15 p.m.
Saturday *Bradley 12:30 p.m.
Saturday *Texas 2:45 p.m.
Sunday *UTEP 12:30 p.m.
Feb. 13 vs. Cal Poly 3 p.m.
Feb. 13 vs. Alabama 5:30 p.m.
Feb. 14 vs. Alabama 12:30 p.m.
Feb. 14 vs. Pacific 5:30 p.m.
Feb. 15 vs. Cal Poly 11:30 a.m.
Feb. 18 vs. UC Davis 5 p.m.
Feb. 20 #South Carolina 8 p.m.
Feb. 21 #Oklahoma State 3 p.m.
Feb. 21 #Fresno State 7:30 p.m.
Feb. 22 #Texas A&M 11:30 a.m.
Feb. 22 #San Diego State 2 p.m.
Feb. 27 !Utah Valley 11:30 p.m.
Feb. 27 !Wichita State 2 p.m.
Feb. 28 !Northwestern 11:30 a.m.
Feb. 28 !Long Beach State 11:30 a.m.
March 1 !Weber State 10 a.m.
March 4 at UC Davis 3 p.m.
March 6 vs. Minnesota 6 p.m.
March 7 vs. Santa Clara 11 a.m.
March 7 vs. Minnesota 4 p.m.
March 8 vs. Minnesota 10 a.m.
March 8 vs. Santa Clara 12:30 p.m.
March 21 &at Oregon State 4 p.m.
March 22 &at Oregon State 4 p.m.
March 23 &at Oregon State 4 p.m.
March 27 &vs. Utah 3 p.m.
Mar. 28 &vs. Utah 2 p.m.
Mar. 29 &vs. Utah noon
March 31 at Pacific 6 p.m.
April 2 &at Washington 5 p.m.
April 3 &at Washington 5 p.m.
April 4 &at Washington 2 p.m.
April 7 at San Jose State 6 p.m.
April 10 &vs. UCLA 7 p.m.
April 11 &vs. UCLA 7 p.m.
April 12 &vs. UCLA noon
April 15 vs. St. Mary's 6 p.m.
April 18 &vs. Oregon 3:30 p.m.
April 19 &vs. Oregon noon
April 20 &vs. Oregon 7 p.m.
April 24 &at Arizona 6 p.m.
April 25 &at Arizona 6 p.m.
April 26 &at Arizona noon
May 1 &vs. Arizona State 7 p.m.
May 2 &vs. Arizona State 5:30 p.m.
May 3 &vs. Arizona State 2 p.m.
May 7 &at California 3 p.m.
May 8 &at California 4 p.m.
May 9 &at California 3 p.m.
May 15-17 NCAA Regional
May 22-24 Super Regional
May 28-Jun 3 Women's CWS
* Kajikawa Classic, Tempe
# Mary Nutter Classic, Palm Springs
! Long Beach State Invitational