Husker softball and baseball was in the air Wednesday morning as both Rhonda Revelle and Will Bolt met with the media at Memorial Stadium to discuss their upcoming seasons.
The softball season is under 48 hours away
Revelle’s softball team begins its season in under 48 hours as it’s set to play five games—against Nebraska-Omaha, Northern Iowa, Iowa State and Drake—in three days starting Friday at the Doc Halverson UNI-Dome Classic in Cedar Falls, Iowa. Nebraska finished last season with a .500 record at 22-22 in an all-Big Ten schedule.
This season the team gets a nonconference schedule. Revelle is excited about that—she believes it’s a balanced and competitive slate that should help prepare the team for the Big Ten.
“The fact that five teams that we play are all very competitive and three of them were in the NCAAs last year, and all three of them that were in the NCAA have all their arms back,” she said. “So we’re going to face good pitching right out of the gate, and I think that’s really important as we go down the stretch. ”
There’s a calm excitement around the program according to Revelle, who enters her 29th season at the helm of the program.
“I feel like this team has worked differently than we have in the last few years, and they’ve earned the right to take the field with confidence coming into this weekend,” she said.
Revelle named three senior pitchers as team captains, including Olivia Ferrell, Karlee Seevers and Courtney Wallace. The strength of this year’s team is going to be the culture and leadership. On the field, the team has experience on the mound.
“We’ve had a lot of returning players who, although they haven’t played a traditional nonconference, those sophomores, many of them who are going to be seeing a lot of playing time, have 44 games against Big Ten opponents last year—I think that’s going to help. The thing that I think is going to be our cornerstone is that we’re really not young, even though we might start up to five sophomores. A lot of them had significant playing time last year.”
The Huskers bring back an impressive group of young players led by Billie Andrews and Kaylin Kinney, who were both freshmen last year. Andrews, who earned first-team All-Big Ten, batted .317 with a team-high 45 hits, seven home runs and 31 runs batted in. Kinney hit .238 with 19 hits, four home runs and 11 RBIs.
Revelle said Andrews will elevate her game, but it might not even be on the stat sheet. Instead, it’s the maturity level and he work ethic.
“She’s so competitive that sometimes the competitiveness tips over and becomes frustration, and I think she’s managing that better. She’s got better skills at handling that when she doesn’t have success because she wants to win so much for the team, so sometimes if she didn’t have success for the team offensively, she would take that to the defense, and I think you’re going to see her flip that switch a lot quicker. That’s going to help her be more consistent.”
Revelle also let out a bit of news on Wednesday when she announced junior Brooke Andrews was going to be the starting centerfielder. Andrews, a Gretna, Neb., native, started 31 games, including her first 30 career starts at third base last season as a sophomore. She also hit .256 with 20 hits, three homers and 14 RBIs.
With Sydney Gray working back from a season-ending injury sustained in the season finale against Penn State, Revelle wanted to keep both Gray and Brooke Andrews on the field because they both rank in the top-8 of the team’s returning production offensively. Brooke Edwards was put at center in practice, and assistant Lori Sippel, who coaches the outfielders, turned to Revelle and said, “We have something here.”
Brooke Andrews is a natural at center, Revelle said.
In the circle, Wallace returns for the Huskers. The Papillion-La Vista High School product recorded a .286 earned-run average with a 56-50 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Revelle said Wallace had a nice year last season, but was nowhere near satisfied with her performance.
“She needs to trust the work that she’s done, she needs to believe that she’s good enough. She runs the ball in the upper 60s and you equate that to a baseball reaction time—that’s upper 90s in baseball,” Revelle said. “She’s really been working on her offspeed. So for her, if she can continue to locate like she has been and get that offspeed going, I think she takes her game to the next level. I think you’re going to see an all-conference performer on the mound.”
It was an offseason full of working toward improving specific areas of her game, as well as adding to her pitching repertoire, which now includes a curveball and a rise.
“The biggest thing this past summer has been working on weightlifting, conditioning and making sure I can pitch two games in a row if I need to. And focusing on adding another pitch and making sure that my changeup is postseason ready.”
Cam Ybarra also returns. The former Oregon State transfer who started all 41 games at second base last season wanted to work on her offense over the summer. Last season she owned a .298 average at the plate with 42 hits, four homer runs and 27 RBIs.
Ybarra is just one of the players that will be relied to to replace the big bat of Tristen Edwards, who tied for the team lead in homers with seven and slugged a team-best .651.
“I think I could’ve done a lot better last year,” Ybarra said. “I know that we tried our best to produce the runs for our pitchers, but I definitely think I could’ve contributed more in that aspect.”
After successful season, Bolt isn’t seeing his team “ahead of our skiis”
After a season when it won a Big Ten championship and made its the first regional final since 2007, it’s natural to ask what’s next for Will Bolt and his Husker baseball program.
To Bolt, hosting a regional final is one goal.
“It’s pretty well documented that’s the most desirable route to get to Omaha, to get to the World Series, is to play at home with the crowds that we have, the facilities that we have,” Bolt said. “We feel like we have a good home-field advantage.”
But, Bolt continued, it’s important to take things one game at a time. There’s a long way to go. What’s been impressive about his team dealing with outside expectations, though, is that Bolt doesn’t ever hear the players talk about it.
That’s a good thing, especially when you’re talking about a team full of teenagers and young 20-somethings.
“There’s never really been any sort of indication that we feel like we’ve arrived, or we’ve got this fake confidence going on because of what past success we’ve had,” Bolt said. “There’s just never really a conversation that’s had, I don’t ever feel like I have to go put anybody in their place because we’re getting ahead of our skiis a little bit so to speak.”
With over 15 new faces in the program, there’s still a humble nature and quiet confidence surrounding the team. That can be chalked up to the four new captains in utility man Cam Chick, catcher Griffin Everitt and pitchers Kyle Perry and Shay Schanaman. That group is showing up every day with the enthusiasm to get better, and it’s rubbing off on others.
“They’re team players, they’re selfless, they gotta be willing to do what it takes to be a great team player before they can ask their teammates to do that,” Bolt said of his captains.
The Huskers will need to replace two of their three weekend starters on the mound from last year in Cade Povich and Chance Hroch. Shay Schanaman, now a senior, was the Sunday starter and will be expected to contend to be the Friday or Saturday guy. Bolt said another veteran, Perry, has positioned himself well to be in that discussion, too.
Perry, a Millard West High School product, battled back from Tommy John surgery last summer and wound up contributing to the team during its postseason run. He struck out seven batters in the Huskers’ 5-3 win over Arkansas in game one of the regional final in Fayetteville.
“He’s a guy that, at this point of his career, whatever role we put him in I think he’d excel,” Bolt said of Perry. “I think his skillset will allow him to navigate through the lineup multiple times, which is what you want in a starter.”
A couple weeks ago, Bolt said the team was looking at around seven or eight arms that would be competing for spots in the rotation. That number has since been whittled down, but Bolt didn’t give names. The season-opening series at Sam Houston beginning on Feb. 18 is four games long.
Elsewhere on the pitching front, Colby Gomes has caught the eye of his head coach. After not playing at all last season and missing about a year and a half due to injury, he’s returned to the diamond and looks to be a strong option as a closer and a backup at first. The Huskers said goodbye to last year’s closer, Spencer Schwellenbach, who had 10 of the team’s 12 saves.
“The development of Colby Gomes at this point in time has really helped solidify some things with our pitching staff,” Bolt said of Gomes. “Going into it, what he’s had to come back from physically, not a whole lot of guys have been able to do. He’s put in a ton of hard work, I’m thrilled where he’s at physically and mentally. He’s a fourth-year guy now in college and he just takes care of his business like a grown-up does.”
Everitt is a player who will be a key piece to the team behind the plate at catcher and with his bat. He hit .287 with three home runs and 21 RBIs.
“He has the absolute trust of all our pitchers at this point in time, just from all the bullpens that he catches,” Bolt said. “His leadership, that’s the next step he’s taken as a catcher, you hear his voice a lot more. His body language exudes a lot more confidence. He’s just in a much different place than he was at this time last year.”
On Wednesday, Nebraska announced that reserved seats being sold out at Haymarket Park.
— Nebraska Baseball (@Husker_Baseball) February 9, 2022
“I’m thrilled to hear the way the season tickets have gone. I’ve said this before, a big reason why I chose to come to Nebraska, and I know a lot of our players, is the fan support,” Bolt said. “That unbelievable fan base that we have and them getting behind us. I feel like we have a great home-field advantage, they help bring the energy to the stadium and gives us a boost.”