Eau Claire (WQOW) — Without even taking a step outside on the diamonds, the UW-Eau Claire softball team is already nationally ranked and off to an undefeated start. The Blugolds return nearly everyone from last year’s 21-win team, and have the bar set high for the 2019 season.
Four games into the season, and four wins for UW-Eau Claire. As the Blugolds are ranked 21st in the country, according to the NFCA Coaches’ poll. They return 8 starters in the field and key pitching inside the circle from last season, making the expectations high for 2019.
“It’s really nice to have experience back. We have a big senior class, but just to have girls that have played,” says senior infielder Brook Varian. “Last year we were young, and to have every position have experience on the field is really going to help us go compete against other opponents.”
A major focus this off-season for the team, improving the offense. And even though the season is still young, head coach Leslie Huntington has liked what she’s seen so far.
“We’ve not been as strong offensively in the past couple of years that we would like to be,” Huntington says, who’s entering her 18th season as head coach. “We’ve spent a tremendous amount of time on our offense, and our first four games I saw a lot of positive things.”
That includes scoring 25 runs in the first four games for the Blugolds’ offense. It’s been junior catcher and Chippewa Falls grad Gretchen Arneson (.626 AVG, 6 RBIs) and sophomore Abby Place (.636 AVG, 4 RBIs) who have led the way for UW-Eau Claire, combining for 14 of the team’s 32 hits so far this season.
“We’ve seen that success all throughout our lineup. It’s not just a few of them, it’s everybody,” Arneson says. “So that’s been a huge help to have, and then clutch hits especially with two outs and things like that to.”
Another strength for this team is inside the circle. As 2018 first-team all-conference pitcher Sarah Peka returns on the mound, and she’s shown a lot of growth from last season.
“Really her maturity, you know being a junior now. Mechanically she’s very good, she throws the ball really well, she throws it really hard, and she’s got really good off-speed stuff,” says Huntington. “But I’ve really let her take ownership of her pitching this year, and I think that’s what you can do with a junior.”
Next up for the Blugolds next week, a 10-game trip to Florida. Where they can finally play a game on a sand diamond, and also see some pretty good competition.
“We’re so excited, we feel like huge underdogs right now,” Peka says. “The fact that we get to play all these nationally ranked teams is so exciting. So I think we’re ready to hit the ground running and play.”
UW-Eau Claire will take on third-ranked St. Thomas (MN) on Saturday morning at 10:45 a.m. to start the trip off. They’ll also play fifth-ranked MIT Sunday afternoon at 12:30 p.m.