Softball prepares for 2022 campaign

The Huskies open their 2022 season Friday against Ohio State University at the FAU Tournament.

Senior+infielder+and+catcher+Katie+Keller+assumes+her+batting+stance+during+a+game.+%28NIU+Athletics%29

Courtesy of NIU Athletics

Senior infielder and catcher Katie Keller assumes her batting stance during a game. (NIU Athletics)

DeKALB — The NIU softball team is gearing up for the start of their 2022 season. Head coach Christina Sutcliffe and her athletes look to build off of lessons learned last season while going into a third year of working against COVID-19 protocols.

In the 2021 season, the Huskies had an overall record of 19-36 with a Mid-American Conference record of 13-26. The team’s combined batting average was .264, while the pitchers had a combined earned run average of 4.83 on the season, according to the 2021 NIU softball season stat sheet.

“We’re really just trying to stay above .500 (winning percentage) to get into (the MAC) Tournament and make a run,” Sutcliffe said. “We have to go into every weekend thinking we’re trying to win the weekend. We are trying to go two out of three at least every weekend so that we can stay ahead of everybody.”

Key players filling key roles

Sophomore pitcher Claire Norred winds up for a pitch during a game. She appeared in 41 games in 2021, 28 being starts, and recorded 102 strikeouts. (Courtesy of NIU Athletics)

Senior infielder and catcher Katie Keller has stepped into a leadership position as team captain, a role where she works to help her team continue to grow. Keller had a batting average of .417, solidifying her as the highest performer on the field for NIU in the 2021 season. She also received accolades for Academic All-American, All-District and All-MAC selection last year.

“I’m incredibly excited to just take this team and have everybody behind me and have everyone all excited to go into a new year,” Keller said. “On this team, our coaches stress academics even more than athletics, it’s so important.”

Senior outfielder Kara Apato joined Keller as the only two Huskies to start in all 56 games of last year’s season. Apato had a batting average of .293 last season and was named to the Academic All-MAC selection. She has also learned to become a role model to new members of the softball team.

“I’m definitely just trying to win some games for my teammates in any aspect I can,” Apato said. “I set some goals for batting averages and taking charge over the outfield. Definitely, a team goal is to win the MAC championship, so it’s about how I can help in any way to get there.”

Looking down the stretch

As the softball team looks forward to having a strong conference start in March, they will first travel to multiple preseason tournaments.

We have to go into every weekend thinking we’re trying to win the weekend.”

— Head coach Christina Sutcliffe

The Huskies will travel to Boca Raton, Florida, on Feb. 11 for the Florida Atlantic University Tournament, and later in the month, the team will go down to Chattanooga, Tennessee, on Feb. 25 for the Frost Classic. In March, the team will return to Tennessee for the Austin Peay Tourney in Clarksville on Mar. 4. Rounding out the preseason action is the Southern Illinois University Tournament in Carbondale on Mar. 11.

“I’m excited to just use those (non-conference) games as sort of an introduction to what we can do in conference,” Keller said.

MACtion will start for the Huskies on Mar. 18 at Bowling Green State University, and the regular season will end with NIU welcoming the University at Buffalo on May 8 before the beginning of the MAC Tournament on May 12.

“I just think this team is pretty special from the standpoint of their culture,” Sutcliffe said. “They’re a really close knit group. They’re bought into each other, they’re bought into what we’re trying to do and they’re collectively really trying to represent NIU with everything they can.”

The Huskies are set to take on Ohio State University Friday at 8 a.m. CT in their first matchup of the FAU Tournament. This game, and all the other matchups for the weekend, can be viewed on the FAU Athletics website.