As the Oregon softball players stirred in the depths of Jane Sanders Stadium on Tuesday afternoon readying for their first practice of 2020, rays of sunshine began to illuminate the bright white tarp that had been protecting the precious infield dirt from the steady downpour of the previous few days.
“[We’re] excited to see the sun came out today, because we thought we were going to get snow,” second-year head coach Melissa Lombardi said.
Last week consisted of individual- and position-based workouts for the Ducks, but Tuesday marked the first time the entire Oregon softball team would be practicing together since the fall. They have about three weeks to prepare as a team before the squad heads to Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, to play in the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge starting Feb. 6.
These first practices will not only be about improving technically, but about getting the new players adjusted to the program. The 2020 roster includes nine new faces, four of which are transfers. They might not know everything about the program yet, but they certainly come with talent.
Samaria Diaz is a senior transfer who spent her first three seasons at New Mexico State. She received the Western Athletic Conference pitcher of the year in 2019, racking up 228 strikeouts over 177 innings pitched and recorded a 2.10 ERA. Diaz may be new to the program, but she can still fill the role of a mentor to the younger players.
“She is a proven pitcher who knows how to win, and she will bring valuable experience to this young team,” Lombardi told goducks.com. “I really like how hard she throws the ball and the movement that comes along with it.”
Following Diaz from Las Cruces to Eugene is sophomore infielder Mya Felder. Felder hit .357 and crushed 12 home runs in 2019, earning herself freshman of the year in the WAC. While the Ducks already have a core infield returning, Felder brings even more depth and the ability to leave the yard at any moment.
In addition to the NMS transfers, the Ducks welcome infielder Maddie Hopper, a redshirt junior from Pacific University, and junior left-handed pitcher Brooke Yanez, the 2019 Big West pitcher of the year. The new recruiting class includes infielder Ariel Carlson, right-handed pitcher Makenna Kliethermes, utility player Jazzy Contreras, outfielder Deijah Pangilinan, and utility player Vallery Wong.
“It feels good to have a replenished roster for sure,” Haley Cruse, senior center fielder, said. “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.”
Despite the new look, Lombardi is confident in the returners to solidify the lineup.
“There was a lot on us last year, there was a lot on our plate. I loved how they fought through the adversity, and there were some big time things that happened to us as a team. Those big time moments from last year are going to really benefit the team this year,” Lombardi said.
After missing the postseason in 2019, the Ducks are hungrier than ever to start the year. The first practice of the year signifies a chance to start fresh, everyone is on an equal playing field. The Ducks have returned core leaders such as Cruse and left-handed pitcher Jordan Dail, while bolstering the roster with promising freshman and talented transfer students.
The only thing they need now is a few more sunny days in Eugene.