GVSU softball returns seven starters for 2016

GVL/Kevin Sielaff
Sara Andrasik

GVL/Kevin Sielaff Sara Andrasik

Alex Eisen

A new campaign awaits, but many familiar faces remain on the Grand Valley State softball roster.

The Lakers aim to capture their first GLIAC title since 2013 with an expected 2016 lineup card that pencils in seven of GVSU’s eight starters from a season ago and a potent pitching staff.

In her second season patrolling the dugout, head coach Dana Callihan is hopeful the growing pains from last year’s inexperienced squad are now behind it.

“Things are going to be a lot easier,” Callihan said. “They know what I’m talking about and what I expected from them. So, hopefully we will pick up from where we left off last year and keep it going.”

GVSU’s 2015 team, which featured more freshmen (seven) than upperclassmen (five), finished fourth in the GLIAC with a respectable 32-17 record and reached the NCAA Division II tournament for the fifth consecutive time.

The youthful Lakers, however, were bounced early in the Midwest Regionals after losing to No. 17 Southern Indiana (4-2) and 2015 GLIAC champions Wayne State (2-0).

Even though nearly everyone is returning, the GLIAC preseason coaches’ poll has GVSU slotted for another fourth-place finish in the conference. Callihan wants improvement, not complacency.

“Our goal is always to win conference,” she said. “If we do well in our conference, then that is going to boost us into postseason play. We think we can be competitive, but there are some good teams in our league.”

WSU, Saginaw Valley State and Ashland should be GVSU’s biggest competitors, as all were ranked above GVSU in the preseason poll.

The Lakers will turn to their talented arms on the mound, reliable defense and team depth to hopefully slow down their rivals. The offense will have to keep pace.

“I think our pitching staff is going to be key for us, we go four deep,” Callihan said. “The other (important) thing is going to be how we hit. If we can maintain the run support that we need for our pitchers then I think we are going to be in very good shape.”

Sara Andrasik is the lone senior on the pitching staff, and is coming off an 11-7 record with a 2.55 ERA and 93 strikeouts in 129 innings of work. She currently ranks eighth all-time in GVSU history with 336 strikeouts and is tied for ninth place with 13 shutouts.

Having capable arms behind Andrasik is crucial with the abundance of double-headers in college softball.

“We have a very strong pitching staff this year,” Andrasik said. “We have one pitcher in every grade. Last year, Courtney (Reinhold) and I got a lot of time – Ellie (Balbach) came in a lot too. So, the three of us have experience and Allison (Lipovsky) – our freshman – is showing a lot of great signs as well.”

Reinhold, a sophomore, was an All-GLIAC Honorable Mention selection last season, sporting a 13-8 overall record with a 1.97 ERA. Balbach, a junior, earned a spot on the All-GLIAC First Team as a designated player, yet still went 8-2 with a 2.04 ERA in the circle.

Newcomer Lipovsky, from Harrison, Michigan, was a two-time All-State pitcher at Harrison High School.

Moving to the infield, senior McKenze Supernaw jumps across the diamond from third to first base as Heather Sperlazzo, who started every game at first base last year as a true freshman, will be sidelined the entire season due to injury. GVSU would have returned its entire starting lineup had she remained healthy.

Supernaw was named to the All-Midwest Region Second Team during last year’s postseason, but her agreement to switch positions speaks volumes on par with the loud ping of the ball coming off her bat.

“Personal goals? Make sure I’m there for everybody,” Supernaw said. “If somebody needs help with anything, I’m there. For my personal goal, that’s pretty much it – step up as a leader.”

Over at second base, junior Jenna Lenza garnered All-GLIAC First Team honors in 2015 by leading the Lakers in batting average (.378), hits (59) and RBIs (36), and tied Supernaw with six home runs.

Senior Chelsea Horvath took control in the outfield and at the plate last season, hitting a team second-best .348 batting average with an equally impressive .427 on-base percentage.

The Lakers also have two cross-sport references lining the roster.

An All-GLIAC Honorable Mention selection at shortstop in 2015, Teagan Shomin’s notable freshman season inspired her sister, Taylor Shomin, to try out and eventually excel with GVSU’s volleyball program in the fall, while junior Janae Langs will join her softball teammates when she can finally be pulled away from the basketball court.

The Lakers begin their season by traveling to Rosemont, Illinois for the Lewis Dome Tournament. GVSU will play Missouri S&T and Illinois-Springfield on Feb. 26 and then Wisconsin-Parkside and William Jewell on Feb. 27.

Following the indoor tournament, the Lakers head further south to Clermont, Florida to play 12 games in seven days as part of their annual spring break trip from Mar. 6-12.

“We keep going because it’s warm,” Callihan said. “They get a little breather from classes, get to enjoy some sun and actually get to be on a dirt field and play the game we all love. So, it’s always fun to head down there and get some of that competition in.”

The snow-covered diamond on GVSU’s softball field won’t be used until Mar. 16, when Aquinas comes to Allendale for a doubleheader.