Eugene, Ore. -- The 2018-2019 offseason was not kind to Oregon softball and new head coach Melyssa Lombardi. In the wake of Mike White's departure to the University of Texas, Lombardi was hit with a wave of transfers to Austin, including some of the best players that had set foot in Jane Sanders Stadium. Allegations began to fly about new codes of conduct, an alleged dress code that had to be adhered to, and then more transfers just a month or two before the 2019 season. One starter remained on the team, while the rest of the team was filled out by walk-ons, true freshmen, and transfers, some of whom didn't survive the season.
Even despite those issues, Oregon managed to notch signature wins in 2019, beating no. 7 LSU and beating top ranked (and eventual NCAA champion) UCLA in Westwood. Lombardi and her staff retained their players, kept the 2020 recruiting class together, then added several key transfers to fill out the roster.
One year after one of the most tumultuous offseasons for a Duck sports team in recent memory, the 2020 version of Oregon softball looks a bit more like what fans have come to expect: a team loaded with talent that certainly could make it to the NCAA Tournament, and possibly push even further.
"There was a lot on us last year," Lombardi recalls. There was a lot on our plate. But I loved how they fought through the adversity. I think of some big time things that happened for us last year and I feel like those big time moments last year are really going to benefit this team this year. They're settled, they're older, they're more experienced and we've been through it. They know how to compete. Thye know how to fight through tough situations."
"It feels good to have a replenished roster," says outfielder Haley Cruse, one of the lone upperclassmen from Oregon's 2018 Women's College World Series team to stick around in the wake of the coaching change. "I think right now we're hungry, ready to get on the field. It's a completely different team but that's not a bad thing. We just need to figure out how to work together as a unit."
The new roster additions are an especially welcome sight to pitcher Jordan Dail, who threw for 248 innings, which led the Pac-12 by nearly 70 innings and ranked second in the nation. Transfers Brooke Yanez and Samaria Diaz were both all conference selections in the Big West and WAC respectively, while freshman Makenna Kliethermes will be in relief role.
"It was kinda relieving to have that reassurance that there were three other arms we could use," says Dail. "It pushed me more to get stronger in the weight room and just push myself. I had a little bit more of a motive knowing that we have a full staff, we have a full team."
"For [Jordan] to this year step on the mound and be at her best every time she steps on the mound versus being tired because she's pitched how many games in a row or how many innings, I think that's gonna be huge for her," Lombardi explains. "I think to have those options is what's gonna really allow us to do things we want to do this year."
Elsewhere on the field, the Ducks will return multiple starters from last season, including power hitting third base Rachel Cid, shortstop Jasmine Sievers, utility players Bailey Cook, Shaye Bowden and Allee Bunker. Arizona State transfer catcher Terra McGowan, who was forced to sit out due to the NCAA transfer rules, will also be challenging for an increased role.
"To know the majority of our infield returns, this year they are very experienced and they're young," mentions Lombardi. "That's kinda lethal when you can talk about a young team that's that experienced. And adding some of our newcomers and adding some of our new freshmen, I think our defense is gonna be very strong this year."
The Ducks will begin their non-conference season in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico on February 6th in the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge.