There are no seniors in the starting lineup and the only two on the roster have been limited due to injuries. When it comes to Stanford softball, though, the lack of a senior starter does not mean a lack of leadership.
Paying attention in the Pac-12 is particularly crucial given the strength of the conference, which boasts five of the top seven teams in the nation.
The conference schedule gets under way this weekend, with Stanford (22-6) hosting Bay Area rival California in a three-game set beginning Friday at 5:30 p.m. and continuing Saturday with a doubleheader that begins at noon.
"The Cal-Stanford rivalry is there regardless of the sport," Stanford coach John Rittman said. "In softball, because of the success of all the teams, they are all big series. We're all fighting for the postseason."
Last year, eight of the nine conference teams were selected to play in the NCAA tournament. Entering play this week, only two teams have overall records under .500 and that's all likely to change in a few short weeks.
Five Pac-12 teams, including California, have won a national title. The conference has won 24 titles and had 15 runner-ups since the NCAA began sponsoring the tournament in 1982.
Stanford has qualified for the past 16 consecutive years and has appeared in five Super Regionals (since they were introduced in 2005) and a pair of Women's College World Series.
Just getting through conference play becomes a cause for celebration.
"Every time you step on the field against a Pac-12 team you're facing a lineup full of All-Americans," said Rittman, in his 18th year at Stanford. "There are quality players everywhere."
The Cardinal has a few of its own, with five junior starters and a pair of sophomores and freshmen.
"We don't have a team captain," Rittman said. "Basically, they are all leaders. The upperclassmen take charge but everybody leads in their own way. They hold each other accountable."
Freshmen Kylie Sorenson, Bessie Noll and Madi Schreyer already have distinguished themselves. Lauren Bertoy has started a handful of games and Carley Hoover is 2-0 with a 1.65 ERA in five appearances.
Hoover, last year's national Gatorade Player of the Year, has been out of action since early in the season.
"Injuries are part of the game," Rittman said. "We've been like a MASH unit with our pitching staff."
That's where Schreyer fits in. She's thrown 123 of the team's 179 innings thus far, producing a 16-4 record with a 1.59 ERA in 22 games, 18 starts. The Canadian National Team member stepped up to the challenge.
"She's done well in taking a lot of the innings," Rittman said. "She's matured quickly and done a great job of becoming a complete pitcher."
Leticia Olivarez, starting her first year as an assistant after spending two years as a volunteer assistant, has been working overtime to assure Stanford has enough pitchers.
Rittman has had to adjust quickly with a pitching staff that lost Teagen Gerhart (she's a volunteer assistant this year) to graduation, last year's Pac-12 Freshman of the Year Kelsey Stevens, who transferred to defending national champion Oklahoma, and veteran junior Nyree White, who had given up one hit in five innings thus far. She's currently injured.
Sorenson, the starting shortstop and team leader with a .400 batting average and 12 doubles, has appeared in eight games as a pitcher, starting three. Juniors Tylyn Wells and Erin Ashby and sophomore Kayla Bonstrom also have taken turns on the mound.
Sorenson, a two-time All-CIF Division I pick who did some pitching at West Ranch High, also leads the Cardinal with a .653 slugging percentage and a .525 on-base percentage.
Stanford was able to navigate a strenuous preseason schedule due to Schreyer's emergence and the team's offensive capabilities.
Cassandra Roulund leads the Cardinal with 27 RBI, but seven others have at least 13. Freshman Bessie Noll is right behind Sorenson in terms of average at .361, while seven others are hitting over .300, contributing to Stanford's .329 team average.
Catcher Jessica Plaza is hitting .352 with a team-high four home runs and a .648 slugging percentage.
Hanna Winter leads the team with 32 hits, followed by Sorenson and Leah White, each with 30. The 3 W's (White, Winter and Wells) are a combined 31 of 34 in stolen base attempts.
"Our lineup is tough one through nine," Rittman said. "There are no easy outs and we're getting production from every part of the lineup. We have a nice blend of speed, average and power. We have a lot of depth, a lot of options."
Hanewich and Miller, for example, started 78 percent of the time over their first three years. Junior Lauren Donovan and sophomore Kaitlin Schaberg also have started a few games this year. Junior Alyssa Lombardo started a few games last year.
The Cardinal, despite its early injury problems, remains a contender in the Pac-12.
This story contains 860 words.
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