Megan Smith didn’t find an empty cupboard when she took over Kansas University’s softball program in July.
“Obviously, there’s some good talent returning,” said Smith, an aide at LSU before being hired to replace Tracy Bunge who retired after 13 seasons as the Jayhawks’ head coach.
Returnees include designated hitter Allie Clark and outfielder Liz Kocon who led the ’09 team with 10 and nine home runs, respectively. Clark and Kocon also shared the club RBI lead with 30 apiece.
Among the other veterans returning are first baseman Amanda Jobe, second baseman Sara Ramirez, catcher Brittany Hile and pitcher Sarah Vertelka.
On the whole, though, last spring’s 21-31 record wasn’t a fluke because the Jayhawks ranked dead last in the Big 12 Conference in team batting average, and next-to-last in both pitching and fielding.
Clearly, five newcomers — all recruited by Bunge — will have an opportunity to earn starting jobs.
Twins Rosie Hull and Maggie Hull, who batted .533 and .471 respectively at Free State High, could join Kocon to form an all lefthanded-hitting outfield.
Mariah Montgomery, a three-time all-state shortstop from Ralston, Neb., likely will be given ample opportunity to become a regular after last year’s KU shortstops committed a glaring 26 errors.
Alex Jones, a pitcher from Enid, Okla., could beef up the circle staff, but Jones was also her high school league’s offensive player of the year and her bat could elevate her into an every-day role.
And Kendall Patterson, a catcher from nearby McLouth, set the Kansas prep record for career hits and could challenge for time behind the plate. She was the Journal-World’s area player of the year in 2008.
On paper, all the newcomers are potential regulars, but it’s also important that a handful of veterans have bounce-back seasons at the plate, and that someone emerges as the No. 1 pitcher.
“The key is finding consistency and achieving excellence every day,” Smith said. “And I think that will happen quickly.”