Softball faces high expectations this year


Zoey Schentzel

South Dakota State’s Grace Glanzer pitches the ball in a softball exhibition game against St. Cloud State Sept. 25 at Jackrabbit Softball Stadium.

Skyler Jackson, Sports Editor

​​Expectations are once again high this season for the South Dakota State softball team.

After winning the Summit League tournament and making the NCAA Regionals the last two years, the Jackrabbits expect to have another successful season, which starts Friday in Texas against Houston and Big Ten champion Nebraska.

“We’re going to be tested right away,” coach Kristina McSweeney said. “I’m ready for this team to put their best foot forward and for the softball world and for people to see that there’s nothing that’s going to bring this team down.”

But this year’s team will have a different look than teams in the past. McSweeney is taking over as head coach after Krista Wood, the winningest coach in program history, left for Creighton at the end of last season.

McSweeney coached the previous 10 seasons at Division II program Arkansas Tech, where she posted a 356-184 career record. She helped the Golden Suns win four Great American Conference tournament titles and won conference coach of the year twice. Joining McSweeney on the coaching staff is Josh Bertke, who coached alongside her at Arkansas Tech for seven seasons.

This season will be McSweeney’s first coaching at the Division I level, but she said the transition to Brookings has been an easy one.

“I feel like I was supposed to coach here my entire life,” McSweeney said. “The most exciting part of the transition is being able to work with the higher-level athletes I’m working with. And being able to coach them and see them develop, taking them from what they were last year and watching them add to their game.”

Despite changes to this year’s roster, there are also many key returning players. One of which is junior infielder Rozelyn Carrillo, the reigning Summit League Player of the Year.

Last year she led the conference in both hits (69) and runs scored (47). She also batted .381 with 11 home runs and 48 runs batted in. She won conference defensive Player of the Year, after not giving up an error in conference games.

After that successful season a year ago, she looks to keep that momentum going heading into this season.

“I think just continuing to focus on what I do best and not trying to think too much of things,” Carrillo said. “Awards and all that doesn’t mean too much, things change from year to year. So just focusing on me and what I can do best for my team.”

Other key returners for the Jackrabbits are Carrillo’s sister Jocelyn, senior catcher Allison Yoder, junior infielder Cheyanne Masterson and junior pitchers Tori Kniesche and Grace Glanzer.

Both Kniesche and Glanzer were named to the All-Summit League first team last year after combining for 41 wins and over 400 strikeouts. Glanzer also won conference pitcher of the year after posting a 21-7 record and a 1.85 earned run average.

While McSweeney expects the pitching to remain dominant this season, she said a main focus of the offseason has been the team’s offensive approach.

“The pitching is what got them to where they were at,” McSweeney said. “Our big focus has been pushing that offensive approach, a different offensive approach than what they’ve had, and I think that has resonated with them.”

The Jackrabbits looked to keep improving throughout the offseason as the expectations they set for themselves continued to grow.

“Even practice from day to day, it’s not about being stagnant,” Glanzer said. “It’s about ‘How can we get better every single day? How can we get better from the day before?’ And if we do have a setback, we find a way to be resilient and come back that next day to keep growing as a team and individuals.”

SDSU went 43-8 overall in 2021 and lost only once in the Summit League on their way to the conference title. They followed that up with a 41-13 season and another conference title. In both years, they failed to make it out of the NCAA Regionals.

Their next goal for this season is making it to the Super Regionals and then possibly the Women’s College World Series in Oklahoma City.

“When (McSweeney and Bertke) got here, it was all about ‘We’re not just a Summit League team, we want to be an OKC team, we want to be a team that can make it to the World Series,’” Glanzer said. “And we can do that, but it’s about putting our mind to it and training like that every single day.”