The Virginia softball team will begin its 2018 season this Thursday with a doubleheader at McNeese State in Lake Charles, La. as part of the Cowgirl Classic. Last season, the Cavaliers won eight of their final 10 games of the regular season — including a seven-game win streak — to reach the ACC Tournament for the first time since 2013. The team also got its first win over a ranked opponent since 2014, at then-No. 14 James Madison.
However, that Virginia team lost eight players to graduation, including catcher Katie Park, a National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) First-Team All-Region selection last year. They have been replaced with nine new players — including eight freshmen.
Coach Joanna Hardin is entering her second season as the head coach of the Cavaliers, along with assistant coaches Kaleigh Rafter and Katie Repole.
“Our staff is very committed to development — let’s learn from our mistakes, learn from our successes and get better,” Hardin said.
Prior to taking the Virginia job, Hardin spent two years as head coach and two years as an assistant coach at McNeese State. In 2016, her last McNeese State team posted a record of 43-14, winning both the Southland Conference regular season and tournament titles as they advanced to NCAA regional play.
Rafter is a former player at Detroit Mercy who has been a member of the Canadian National Team since 2008. She was a part of the team that finished fourth at the 2008 Beijing Olympics and the one that won gold at the 2015 Pan-American Games.
The team will be led by its two seniors, Allison Davis, a pitcher and outfielder, and Danni Ingraham, who plays first base. Both were second-team Virginia Sports Information Directors All-State selections last season. The two have combined to start 308 games in their Virginia careers.
“Their leadership is huge … They’ve been through the ringer and through the ACC,” Hardin said.
Ingraham is beginning her fourth season starting at first base for the Cavaliers. She led the team in home runs with 10 last season, but also places an emphasis on her defensive contributions.
"When your teammates make awesome plays, a lot of the times the throw's not going to be there,” Ingraham said. “I take a huge responsibility, and I want to make sure I'm doing this for my team.”
Davis was second on the team in batting average last season, hitting .328. She started all 54 games and pitched in 12 of them, starting two.
Erika Osherow, a current junior, was the team’s top pitcher last year, pitching in 41 games. She started 31 of those games — finishing a complete game in 14 of them — and posted a record of 15-9 as well as an ERA of 4.78.Davis and Osherow were both selected to the All-ACC Academic Team last season, as well.
True freshmen Savana Avilla, Hayley Busby, Kate Covington, Ashley Jennings, Molly Keshin, Rachel Keshin, Sam Thomas and Madi Traver have joined the team this year. Also joining the team are redshirt freshman Janelle Zellars and junior Tabby Dabney, a transfer from Richard Bland College.
As part of the Cowgirl Classic, Virginia will also face No. 20 Tulsa, Houston Baptist and Southern. The first game of the doubleheader against McNeese State will begin at 6:30 p.m. Thursday, with the second to follow at 8:30. The team’s first home game and first ACC game will be played March 9 against Georgia Tech at The Park in Charlottesville.