By Jose Saldana
With the 2018 season beginning on Thursday, a new era begins for Stanford softball. Last summer, head coach Rachel Hanson decided to accept a position at the nonprofit Baseball and Softball Education Foundation. Stanford’s athletic department quickly found a replacement, as Minnesota’s Jessica Allister was named the new head coach a week later.
Hanson’s tenure, while successfully academically with nine All-Pac-12 academic selections, saw a downturn in quality play on the field. In the three years under Hanson, the team had a 49-104 record and 4-68 record in the Pac-12.
The team hasn’t played in the NCAA playoffs since 2013, hasn’t won the Pac-12 since 2005 and hasn’t reached the College World Series since 2004.
However, Allister’s introduction as the head coach could mark a turning point for Stanford softball.
Allister has a pedigree of excellence, from her playing career to her coaching career. She was a catcher for the Cardinal from 2001-2004. She is first in the program’s history in games played (266), sixth in home runs (32), seventh in RBI (162) and second in fielding percentage (.994). She also helped lead the Cardinal to two College World Series appearances (2001, 2004).
Her coaching career has been almost as stellar. Allister became an assistant coach at Georgia in 2005, and in her two seasons with the Bulldogs, the team made the NCAA tournament and won a SEC championship. She came back to the Farm as an assistant coach and she was part of a coaching group that won 2009 West Regional Coaching Staff of the Year.
Then, she spent one season at Oregon before taking her first head coaching job with Minnesota in 2010. The Golden Gophers saw their most successful run in the program’s history with a 290-107 record in Allister’s seven season and their first No. 1 ranking ever.
“I am thrilled to welcome [Allister] back to Stanford to lead the program she helped build,” said Director of Athletics Bernard Muir after Allister was hired. “She was an elite competitor during her time on The Farm and has continued to excel in her coaching career. [Allister] has established herself as an excellent coach and I believe she will push our student-athletes to be their best on the field, in the classroom and in the community.”
Now, with a promising coach in hand, Stanford softball will still need time for success to come.
Three of the Cardinal’s leading hitters, Kylie Sorenson, Bessie Noll and Lauren Bertoy are all gone.
Sorenson’s departure is definitely the biggest as she earned all-conference honors four times, and she was named to the 2017 NFCA All-West Region third team. She batted .366 (12th in the Pac-12) and led the team in batting average in three of her four seasons on the Farm.
Noll’s defense will be missed, as she was 2017 Pac-12 All-Defensive team as a center fielder. Her offense was also vital to the Cardinal. She batted .311 and had a .503 on-base percentage (third in the Pac-12).
The Cardinal will need to replace their production while also improving in many areas. In 2017, Stanford was second to last in the conference in batting average, slugging percentage, on-base percentage, runs scored, hits and RBIs.
Stanford will also need to fix their pitching from last season. As a team, the Cardinal ranked last in ERA in the Pac-12 with 5.75.
The Pac-12 is a gauntlet with three teams (Oregon, Washington and UCLA) ranked in the top five of every college softball poll. Fans can’t expect instant success for the Cardinal, but there is hope that the team could exceed expectations this season.
Eight players, who were freshman last year, have the opportunity to take the next step. Sophomore catcher Teaghan Cowles had a great freshman season. She started all 51 games, was second on the team in batting average with .313 and led the team with four triples. If she can develop in her second season, then the team will have a nice offensive rock to lean on.
Under Allister, the Cardinal have the opportunity to surprise teams this season. However, the goals of the season shouldn’t be to win a championship or win the conference, but to show improvements in all facets of softball. These developments will be exciting to see unfold.
The Cardinal begin the season in Tempe, Arizona to play No. 19 BYU on Thursday at 1:30 p.m. PT. The game will be broadcast by the Pac-12 Network.
Contact Jose Saldana at jsaldana ‘at’ stanford.edu.