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The Indiana Daily Student

sports softball

‘Just wait until this year’: Indiana softball aims to build on record-breaking 2023 season

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The defeats sit fresh in their minds. 

Indiana softball looked to capture its first Big Ten Tournament title, but it didn’t. The Hoosiers looked to win the NCAA Tournament Regional Final, but they didn’t. 

Falling to Northwestern by one run hasn’t left redshirt senior utility player Cora Bassett’s mind. She says it won’t ever leave her mind. 

Coming up short against the University of Tennessee on May 21 to end the season is sure to be a learning experience. Senior shortstop Brooke Benson felt her team never played on a big stage like they did in Knoxville, Tennessee, but now its prepared them. 

With the Hoosiers coming off their winningest season since 1994, they're looking to build upon the 44-win season of Team 50 in 2023. Indiana head coach Shonda Stanton is set to begin her seventh season at the helm of the program, looking to take it a step further this season. 

Indiana returns eight of its nine starters from the program’s 50th season a year ago, headlined by juniors Brianna Copeland and Taylor Minnick. The pitcher/utility player and outfielder were both named to the National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-American teams.  

“Nobody can say in the Big Ten that they've got two returning All-Americans,” Stanton said Jan. 31. “There aren't many teams in the country that can say that.” 

However, the one starter not returning is the 2023 Big Ten Player and Freshman of the Year. Taryn Kern announced June 9 she would enter the transfer portal. She later announced her commitment to Stanford University on July 18. She hit a program-record 25 home runs in her lone season in Bloomington while hitting .412. 

Without Kern back in the fold, how does Indiana plan to replace her production?  

It’s simple. 

All we have to do is every kid hit a couple more bombs,” Stanton explained. “[If] every kid hits a couple more bombs, we're in business.” 

While Kern is now set to be a crucial factor in nationally ranked Stanford’s lineup, the Hoosiers’ lineup is built to handle her departure, unlike other teams according to Stanton. 

Not only do eight of Indiana’s starters return, but five freshmen have joined the program and are poised to make an impact. 

The class is comprised of utility players Alex Cooper and Aly VanBrandt, infielders Ella Carter and Tristian Thompson and catcher Savannah Oden. 

Cooper hails from Mooresville, Indiana, while Oden is a native of Nashville, Indiana. The trio of VanBrandt, Carter and Thompson became Hoosiers by way of Michigan, New York and Texas. 

There seemingly won’t be much playing time up for grabs, but Cooper catches Bassett’s eye, leading her to believe she’ll carve out a sizeable role on Team 51. 

“I think she's going to be a big part of our versatility,” Bassett said. “In the infield, watch her play third base and second base and then obviously having a consistent bat at the plate where she can hit for power but also for consistency, I think will be a big part of the offense for sure.” 

While Benson, Bassett and the All-Americans returned, so did the reliable everyday players that didn’t receive national recognition. Junior first baseman Sarah Stone hit .282 in 2023, driving in 63 runs along with 10 home runs. Junior outfielder Kinsey Mitchell hit .362 at the plate while limiting her strikeouts to the second lowest of the starters with 12. 

Throw sophomore catcher Avery Parker into that mix, becoming the Hoosiers’ everyday catcher behind the plate. Stanton explained that she’s building depth so she can give Parker a rest periodically, but the five-tool player can do it all.  

Not only is she reliable behind the dish with a .964 fielding percentage, but Parker also hit .316 alongside 10 home runs. She’ll continue to catch the same pitchers she did a season ago as the Hoosiers return every impact player in the circle from 2023. 

Copeland leads the pitching staff with junior Heather Johnson and senior Macy Montgomery — the three typical starters from 2023. While there were just 11 complete games by Hoosiers in the circle, Stanton expects more of the same this season, deploying what she described as a strong opener, a firewoman to put out or turn up the flame in the middle of games and a closer to finish them off. 

“We got to get them in the mindset that they're cool with that, and they understand what that looks like,” Stanton said. “That's going to be the challenge with a veteran pitching staff.” 

Entering last season, Indiana was widely underestimated and was predicted to finish in the bottom half of the Big Ten. The Hoosiers felt like underdogs — nobody expected them to flourish like they did.  

Although it was a historic season, making the NCAA Tournament for the first time since 2011, there was more left on the table. The Hoosiers didn’t know what it felt like to compete on the biggest stage, but now they do. 

“Now that our team has experienced the pressure, pressure is a privilege now and we’ve now shifted that into a privilege rather than something to be worried about,” Benson said. 

With that comes a shift in mentality this season — and a shift in the expectation level. 

“We were in the hunt — and that's what we want to be, we want to be in the hunt,” Stanton said. “We want to be hunters and not the hunted. For us as a program, it just raises the level of expectation. You're going to see a little bit more of anxiety, you're going to see a little bit more of chippiness with each other and frustration when things don't go well, because now you expect it.” 

While the Hoosiers don’t begin their race for the Big Ten title until a three-game series with Penn State on March 22-24, there’s a 30-game slate to be played ahead of conference play. They’re itching to play, readying to show off the results of the work they put in from May to February. 

“We're only building, we're only growing as a team, we've just seen so much growth in every individual,” Benson said. “If you thought we looked great last year, just wait until this year.” 

Follow reporters Dalton James (@DaltonMJames) and Sam Elster (@samelster1) for updates throughout the Indiana softball season.

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