YSU softball hoping to be competitive

BEAVER TOWNSHIP — Since the 2016 season, but excluding the 2020 COVID campaign, the YSU softball team has finished no worse than third in the Horizon League, winning a regular season title in ’21 while authoring a second-place finish in 2017.

As the all-time winningest head coach in program history, Brian Campbell heads into 2023 hoping to build on his team’s 32-24 mark of a season ago — they went 17-9 in the Horizon League and finished third overall — while looking to replace eight seniors, five of whom were lost to graduation.

If they expect to contend for a title this spring, Campbell must find replacements for starting pitcher Elle Buffenbarger, the program’s all-time wins and strikeout leader, third baseman Nikki Saibene, shortstop Alex DeLeon, left fielder Grace Cea and centerfielder Yazmine Romero.

“It will come down to our pitchers and defense,” Campbell told the Curbstone Coaches during Monday’s weekly luncheon at Avion Banquet Center. “It comes down to putting those two pieces together and producing runs. We have more speed this year, so that is an area we hope to utilize. When you add in defense and pitching, that is the key to getting to where we want to be.”

This year’s roster has a blend of veterans and youth featuring five seniors, seven juniors, three sophomores, and five freshmen.

“This year’s roster is a unique blend of upper-class players and newcomers,” Campbell added.

“We do have a transfer in junior Sarah Fessler and Junior College transfer Devan Ryan while the sophomores and freshmen are kind of learning the system. We are hoping that our upper-class players mixed in with the younger team members are able to teach and they have done a tremendous job in that area in both the fall and spring.”

Five local players – Sophie Howell (junior, Champion), Elyssa Imler (junior, Minerva), Bree Kohler (sophomore, South Range), Conchetta Rinaldi (senior, Cardinal Mooney) and Megan Turner (senior, Champion) – dot this year’s roster.

“The local players have done a tremendous job, coming in and being able to play for their local university,” Campbell stated. “They are just wonderful young ladies and have put up nice numbers, helping us win games and being a part of our championship squad in 2021. To have that experience as a local player, I think it’s just fantastic.”

Replacing Buffenbarger on the mound will be critical.

“We have Devan Ryan, who is a junior college pitcher, Sophie Howell is a junior who has done a tremendous job for us the past two years and pitched really well, also freshman Madison Griffin and sophomore Bree Kohler, who did a good job in the circle last year,” Campbell noted.

“It’s the mixture with those four young ladies and I think it’s a true staff this year. Each brings different things, different pitches and that’s the nice part of it, to be able to switch up speeds from in and out to up and down.”

The Penguins open their season this weekend when they travel to Greensboro, North Carolina for a three-day, five-game weekend series against North Carolina A&T and Norfolk State.

They will play 21 games on the road before returning to campus on March 17 for their home opener against conference foe Purdue Fort Wayne.

“We head South and try to get in a couple of tournaments during the month of February then head to spring break with a couple of tournaments at the beginning and end, mixed with games in between,” the coach said.

“We will play doubleheaders with Memphis and Arkansas-Pine Bluff so it is a mixture of a schedule. Yes, it is a lot of traveling, especially during spring break but it’s about the experience, getting the players out there, getting them together, and playing.”

The Horizon League will once again pose a challenge for the Penguins.

“You have Oakland who won it last year and they have most of their returners back,” Campbell added. “Green Bay, Robert Morris, and Cleveland State were up there last year as well so the Horizon League has always been very competitive. I think that is the exciting part about it, being able to line up every weekend or midweek that you are playing, knowing it is good competition, equal and you realize it most that when you get to the tournament.”

Next Monday, Don Andres, legendary area high school boys’ basketball coach will serve as guest speaker.


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