The Elon University softball team was picked to finish fourth in the Colonial Athletic Association.
That shouldn’t be taken lightly. Neither should Elon’s impressive third-place showing last year in its first CAA season.
Considerable progress was shown last year for head coach Kathy Bocock’s team, and that could continue in 2016, with seven starters and the top two pitchers returning for the Phoenix.
Elon’s strength for once could be in the circle, with both senior Kayla Caruso and sophomore Kiandra Mitchum in the mix.
Caruso was 12-5 with a 3.62 ERA last year, equaling her win total from the previous two years combined. Mitchum threw the most innings (107.1) while going 9-9 and striking out 49.
The foundation’s there for Mitchum. That was clear when she struck out six in a five-inning, one-hit shutout victory against George Washington University just weeks into her collegiate career.
And Caruso’s experience should factor in. She’s set on her goal of winning a CAA championship in her last go-around.
Elon’s pitching ranked second-to-last in the CAA last year with a 3.72 ERA. That number has to improve for a better finish in the league, but the pieces are there for it to.
The Phoenix also was second-to-last in batting. That shouldn’t be the case this year, considering Elon returns its top six hitters from last season.
Junior outfielder Alaina Hall (.358 batting average) leads the way, with sophomores Kara Shutt and Hannah Olson (both .331) not far behind.
Infielder Emily Cameron will be once again be a consistent presence in the lineup and the field, and junior catcher/infielder Emily Roper and junior catcher Carey Million look to build off what they accomplished as underclassmen.
The pieces are there. Now, it’s about whether or not they show a marked improvement from last year that’ll bolster the Phoenix into the conversation at the top of the CAA.
That’ll be tested right away with a season-opening tournament at the University of Georgia, which advanced to a super regional last year.
Elon also faces University of Missouri and University of Florida in the Citrus Classic, as well as its usual tilts with University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University.
And that’s not even to mention the three games toward the end of the season with perennial CAA power James Madison University, which went 19-0 in regular season CAA competition last year.
That series is the second-to-last weekend before the CAA Tournament. If Elon’s returners continue to make strides, those games could figure into the equation for who’s earning the top seeds in that tournament.
Stagnancy isn’t an option.