Bison softball season preview

Coach Mueller like team chemistry

Entering his 21st season at the helm of the North Dakota State University softball team, Head Coach Darren Mueller has only had two losing seasons, last year being one of them.

At 16-29, Coach Mueller thinks it was the lack of chemistry that hurt the 2020-21 Bison softball team. “I think the big thing is this year’s team compared to last year is the chemistry. This year’s chemistry is way better. The team last year didn’t get along really well on the field, I think, and it showed. A lot of times that’s what happens, you don’t get the results that you want. So, that is something we really emphasized this year from the fall…a priority…and so our team has done a great job I think,” Mueller said. “We’re about a week away now and with the work ethic and all the things we look for, they’re doing. I think going into this year I’m optimistic because of that.”

Mueller also said he learned from last year. “I also learned that we had to prepare differently this year because our results from last year were different than what we were used to,” Mueller continued. “So, I think the team and the program are headed back in the right direction…we are certainly good enough to win the conference.”

Both Bison catcher, Avery Wysong, and pitcher, Lainey Lyle, agree wholeheartedly with Mueller’s assessment. Wysong, the senior from Beaver Creek, Minn., mentioned chemistry as well. “We have a fun group of girls this year,” Wysong said. “Our freshmen class is very outgoing. Our senior class has that ‘edge’ on our shoulders, and we want to do better than last year. I think Darren is doing a really good job of having a purpose for every practice as well as on and off the field. Having a purpose to be here and wanting to get better both for the team and for yourself.”

Lyle, a senior from Middleton, Idaho, shares the same outlook. “I think we have really good team chemistry this year. I think we have a very hard-working team; girls are always putting in extra work and always trying to find things to get better at. And, as I said, our team chemistry is good both on and off the field and that is going to make us better on the field.”

In fastpitch softball, pitching is often the key and Mueller likes what he sees from his staff heading into the season. “I think one of the biggest keys is our team E.R.A. was higher than it had been compared to previous seasons. So, I worked with the pitching in the off-season, and I am very pleased with what I see. They have made some great strides. Paige Vargas, for example, now a senior, was a freshman of the year for us. Then she had a couple of OK years, I guess, but going off our last scrimmage, I think she was phenomenal. She has really grown into a leader, not the vocal leader, but that ‘presence’ on the mound. I think that is a key for us. Lainey was our best pitcher last year, the last two years really and she has been hurt on top of that, so I am really looking forward to seeing her healthy this year. She is working her way back and is really throwing the ball well in practice. We just need her at 100% and in ‘pitching shape’ and that will be good for us.”

Lyle expressed the same sentiment. “I’m just trying to get back to healthy, where I’m struggling the most is getting my legs back in shape after not doing anything while recovering from surgery. I’m doing a ton of jump roping and other exercises to build that leg strength back.” Continuing with the rest of the staff, Mueller expressed optimism. “‘Mac’ (junior Mac Shulz) has made strides as well. Changing her repertoire has helped her become much better; she looks great. And Savvy (freshman Savvy Williams) just came back last week, and she is throwing faster. I don’t know…we’re doing the same thing. Maybe she is just more relaxed now. As a freshman, she has so much upside. I am really happy with this group as a staff.” Mueller said.

Handling the pitching staff will be Avery Wysong and Kaylee Moore. “Avery had a great year for us last year and will step in as the starter, but I’m happy with Kaylee Moore as well,” Mueller said. “The one thing with both of our catchers is they will both have ‘pop’ in their bat. There will be opportunities there to play as the [designated player].”

Across the infield, the Bison are set at the corners. Cameryn Maykut will be at first base. Carly Goetschius, a transfer from Northern Illinois, will start at third. “She’s earned it,” Mueller said, “but Chloe (Woodruff) could play some too. She’s another freshman with great upside.” According to Mueller, the middle is still not quite set. “I’m about 75% sure who will play second and shortstop. There is a couple of injury things to work out yet and both ‘Nic’ (senior Nicole Licea) and ‘Sky’ (junior Skylar Padgett) play the positions really well and complement each other, besides, they are interchangeable so it may come down to a match-up thing for them. I’m really happy with the chemistry in the infield.”

In the outfield, Molly Gates will be the left fielder while Dez Cardenas and Emilee Buringa will share center. “We’ll kind of go between ‘Dez’ and Emilee in center. Then the other one will play right. We also have Aba Turner available in right with a strong arm. One of the things we are looking for in center is who can cover the ground. I know they are both comfortable and capable in center, they both want center, but who is going to step up” Mueller said. “It goes back to that chemistry thing. The more we can get our positions set, the more chemistry we build.”

As a team, Mueller thinks the Bison will have some ‘pop’ in their bats. “I think there is potential for some power at the plate on this team. I think we can bat for average as well, but that will take some time for us to get more game savvy”, Mueller said. “We have some talent for sure, but some of it is unproven as day-to-day college softball players. As always, I am very excited for the season and for this team”, Mueller predicted. “But we do have some unknowns.”

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