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Saints reload with eyes on another national tournament appearance

The USF Softball team huddled up before a game.
The Saints raked in the awards last season, tallying nine all-conference honors. Photo: Jaclyn Duske

After a 32-11 campaign that ended in the opening round of the NAIA National Tournament last season, the USF Softball team is reloaded to take the diamond this spring.

There are plenty of familiar faces returning to the Saints’ dugout this season, the biggest among them being graduate student Brittany Osborne, who is back for her sixth season with the Bernies. Other notable returners include Rose Mwaro, Kaylie Sippel and Gracyn Gabriel. All four players appeared in at least 39 games last season for coach Amanda Jensen’s squad.

Osborne, who hit for the highest average of her career last season at .408, led the team in at-bats (152), runs (46), hits (62), doubles (17), was tied for the lead in triples (4) and was second in home runs with four. She was also secondon the squad in RBI and tied for the lead in total bases with 99.

The super-super-senior, who remarkably struck out just twice all of last season, is set to anchor the team from shortstop in her farewell campaign.

Last season, nine Fighting Saints from coach Jensen’s roster were recognized with all-conference honors, including CCAC Pitcher of the Year Hannah Vachon and CCAC Player of the Year Danielle Callahan. Jensen was honored as the coach of the year after leading the program to its first regular season conference title since 2018. 

Other all-conference selections included Osborne, Mwaro, Madisen Tucker, Maddie Massaro, Bridget McDermott and Sippel. Sippel added to her resume with a selection to the College Sports Communicators NAIA Academic All-America Second Team. Callahan was given an NAIA All-America Honorable Mention nod in her final tour as a Saint.

Callahan and Vachon both graduated at the end of last season. Callahan, who hit at a team best .414 clip and 10 HR was a major part of the team’s success last year. The Saints will haveto look elsewhere for her team high 46 RBI. 

In the circle, it’s a similar story. The Saints are down their two top arms from last season: Vachon and Tucker. The pair combined for31 starts in the team’s 43 games last season,with Vachon taking up the bulk of that load, pitching 134.2 innings for the Bernies last spring, posting an impressive 1.72 ERA and1.05 WHIP along the way. Vachon notched 107 strikeouts, which is 61 more than the rest of the staff combined.

The circle remains a question mark this season. With the losses of Tucker and reigning conference pitcher of the year Vachon, it willbe up to some new faces to step into the circle for the Saints this season.

This year’s campaign includes USF’s usual tripto Arizona, where the Saints played 12 games in seven days last season. 

Coach Jensen and company have a tough road ahead. With the conference down to just one automatic bid to the national tournament due to Trinity International’s closing at the endof last school year, the Saints will have to impress the selection committee in the regular season, or take care of business in the conference tournament if they wish to return to the NAIA Opening Round. 

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