Returning softball players ready to step up as leaders next season


Donald Crocker

Freshman Anna Wohlers high fives graduate student Sarah Lehman in DePaul’s 7-1 win over Villanova on April 2. They are both returning next season.

After back-to-back losses at the Big East Tournament, DePaul softball has turned their attention towards next season, and the returning players are ready to step up and take on new challenges.

Headlining the returning players is graduate pitcher Sarah Lehman, who is using her extra year of eligibility granted by the NCAA due to the Covid-19 pandemic. After transferring in from Iowa at the beginning of the school year, Lehman shined throughout the season and Big East tournament, finishing with an ERA of 2.83 and a record of 15-6, with 131 strikeouts.

“There’s always struggles with transferring and getting to know people in a whole different environment and meeting new people and all that,” Lehman said. “But I think growing those relationships with my teammates and knowing they have my back no matter what and me wanting to have their back no matter what, I think that really came into play at the end.”

With Lehman returning to the pitcher’s mound for another season, she will need the defense behind her to have her back.

One of the players Lehman will have backing her up is junior first baseman Brooke Johnson. Her 61 hits and 52 RBIs carried the Blue Demons throughout the season and into the Big East tournament, while Johnson’s willingness to always record outs helped DePaul’s defense.

Another dominant returning player is junior right fielder Tori Meyer, who finished the season second on the team in hits with 56 and a batting average of .339. She also tallied 34 RBIs and five home runs, while also finishing with a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage.

The graduating seniors had a big impact on Meyer as veteran players in her time at DePaul, and she wants to have that same impact on younger and incoming players, she said.

“I want to replicate what the seniors did for me with the younger people coming in because they set really good examples,” Meyer said.

Next to Meyer in the outfield is sophomore center fielder Nicole Sullivan, who also has the opportunity to serve as a leader next season. After a breakout freshman season, Sullivan’s second season saw her amass 40 hits and 33 RBIs.

According to Sullivan, the team grew really close last season, especially near the end as the tension and competition ramped up.

“These are my best friends and people that I love being with,” Sullivan said. “So, I think taking that and the way that we interact outside of softball and taking that onto the field and playing for one another and through the adversity, I think that will be a big deal next year.”

Leaving the team are shortstop Maranda Gutierrez, second baseman Skylor Hilger, left fielder Kate Polucha and pitcher Erin Hocker.

A three-time Big East Defensive Player of the Year, Gutierrez has been a steady member of the team for five years, while Hilger has been a strong player at DePaul for six years. The team and head coach Tracie Adix-Zins will have to find players who can step into those roles.

“Each team has their own path and their own leadership, and so next year, it’s going to be ‘Who’s going to step up? Who’s going to be the one to fill the role of the seniors that we had?’” Adix-Zins said. “We have some ideas of who might fill [Gutierrez’s] role at shortstop and that’s going to be hard to fill considering the balls she can get to and how she throws the ball.”

Some of those roles can be filled by freshmen catcher Anna Wohlers, designated player Baylee Cosgrove and infielder Carly Alvers, who found success in their debut seasons.

As a catcher/third baseman, Wohlers grew as a player over the season while catching for Lehman and Hocker. She and Lehman clicked together as a battery, which earned them the start in DePaul’s 6-2 win over UConn in game one of the Big East Tournament on May 13. Wohlers also contributed to much of DePaul’s offense, with 48 hits and eight home runs.

DePaul’s other catcher, Riley Pool, is a sophomore and her and Wohlers are likely to split time behind home plate. Therefore, Wohlers may get some starts at third base. But when she played as catcher this season, it was Alvers who started at third.

Meanwhile, Cosgrove served mainly as the team’s designated player, which meant that she was their main hitter in place of the pitcher in the lineup. She finished the season with 24 hits, but also earned a few starts at second base. With Hilger graduating, that may be a position Cosgrove can fill next season.

As this year comes to a close, Lehman, Meyer and Sullivan all plan to take some time away from softball and especially focus on their time left with the graduating seniors. After that, they will all go their own ways over the summer to train before coming back to begin another season and make another attempt at a Big East title.

“Starting where we left off,” Lehman said on the team’s goals for next season. “I know that there are going to be some big shoes to be filled with our seniors leaving, but just welcoming the newcomers and having fun.”