Bears awake from hibernation: Spring sports take on new season
Despite temperatures reaching the mid-70s earlier this week, spring is not quite in the air at Washington University at the moment. Regardless of the weather, however, the University’s spring sports schedule kicks into gear in earnest this weekend, with three teams in action. Before they get started, let’s take a moment to meet the major protagonists for this coming season.
The men’s tennis team is the first spring sport to see serious action this season, playing their first match of ITA Indoor Nationals this Friday against University of Redlands. With a No. 6 ranking, men’s tennis also enters the season as the highest ranked spring sport. The men’s tennis team is a perennial top ten team, though they have not progressed past the NCAA quarterfinals since 2015. The Bears will hope this year’s roster can change that.
Despite graduating two of their most dependable singles players—Jeremy Bush and John Carswell—the team is still loaded with talent top to bottom. Senior Jason Haugen and junior Konrad Kozlowski, the Bears’ number one doubles pair from last year, comes into the season ranked twelfth in the nation after narrowly missing out on a fall All-American selection in October. Haugen has had some injury issues throughout the past two seasons, and has missed the Bears’ two warm-up matches, so it would not be a surprise if head coach Roger Follmer decides to hold off on playing his best doubles pairing until later in the season.
On the singles side, the Bears still have their number one player from last year in senior Johnny Wu, as well as their winningest player from 2017, sophomore Bernardo Neves. Sophomore J.J. Kroot will fixture prominently in both the doubles and singles lineup. The Bears’ roster is bolstered by several freshman: Ben Van Der Sman has introduced himself directly into the singles lineup, featuring at the two slot in Wash. U.’s opening match, while Mark Wu, Daniel Li and Koki Takabatake have all made appearances so far.
With a lineup still partially in flux, this weekend’s nationals will be both a chance to work out who will play where for the rest of the season and to compete for a real trophy. It will be a long season for the Bears, and however well they start, the team will largely judge themselves based on what happens in late May.
While the men’s tennis team may have lost two solid seniors to graduation, the women’s team had to part with the most successful program in program history. Rebecca Ho graduated in 2017 with 191 career wins, and came within a set of an individual national title. Ho was a stalwart at number one singles, and her partner at one doubles, Kaylan Griffith, also collected her diploma last spring.
The Bears did get some reinforcements, however, in the form of freshmen Ally Persky and Ashley Lessen. Persky paired with senior Grace Deering and won the ITA Central tournament in the fall. Lessen, meanwhile, reached the semifinals in the singles bracket of that tournament, and enters the season ranked No. 17 in singles. The Bears also do retain some experience, with regulars like Deering, juniors Lisa Chionis and Brigitte Hodge, and sophomore Sanjna Tripathy all returning after successful 2017 seasons.
The women’s team travels to Iowa this weekend to take on Coe College and Carleton College, before heading to their own indoor nationals the following weekend in Chattanooga, Tenn. Ho will be near impossible to replace on an individual level, but the Bears will hope that their mix of new talent and experience can create enough production to win matches.
Wash. U. baseball enters spring 2018 in a strange state. After earning the 2017 UAA championship, the Bears graduated 10 seniors and welcomed 13 freshmen, overhauling a squad that went three games into last year’s NCAA Regional as the No. 14 team in the nation. Despite this being a season preview, the Red and Green have already played three games in February—and so far, the results haven’t been pretty. The Bears are off to an 0-3 start; they lost just three of their final 23 regular season games a year ago. Needless to say, the youth movement isn’t exactly going as planned.
Luckily, the veterans who stuck around were among the title team’s best. Outfielder Auggie Mense—the sole senior on this year’s roster—reached base at a .448 clip, second only to graduated offensive superstar Ben Browdy. That production comes paired with a reliable performance in right, where Mense committed just one error while missing just one game in 2017. Sophomore infielder John Brinkman is no longer a rookie sensation; instead, he’ll look to build on a solid .318/.362/.432 debut. On the mound, junior righty John Howard aims to repeat a breakout campaign in which he fired 59.1 innings of 2.73-run ball. While the Bears don’t feature the same top-to-bottom depth they did last year, they retain a sturdy core that, coupled with some pleasant surprises from the youngsters, could still live up to their D3baseball.com preseason rankings votes.
The key for softball this season will be exactly what the key for softball was last season: the pitching of seniors Maggie Clapp and Anna McKee. McKee had a stellar 2017 season, in which she posted a 1.70 ERA, a 17-4 record and took home UAA Pitcher of the Year honors, while Clapp posted a 2.06 ERA, though her win-loss record was a more mixed 9-10. The duo combined to pitch 96 percent of the team’s total innings last season, and should do the bulk of the pitching again this year.
Wash. U.’s chances this season will largely come down to the success of their two pitchers. If McKee and Clapp can keep other teams off of the bases, it will be a good 2018 for the Bears. If either of them struggle, head coach Michelle Venturella will have to rely on a largely untested bullpen.