2023 Preview: DePaul softball looks to win sixth Big East tournament title


Donald Crocker

Sophomore catcher Anna Wohlers and senior first basemen Brooke Johnson celebrate with their teammates after their 7-1 victory over Villanova on April 4, 2022.

The ending of the 2022 softball season left a bitter taste in the Blue Demons’ mouths. After a dominating 6-2 win against UConn in the opening match of the Big East conference tournament, DePaul saw its chances to win the title crumble. 

The Blue Demons dropped back-to-back games to Villanova (1-0) and UConn (6-2), sending them to an early summer vacation.

Fast forward to this off-season, and DePaul enters the 2023 season as pre-season favorites to win the Big East per the conference’s coach’s preseason poll. This is mainly due to the Blue Demons returning the majority of their offense that finished first in the conference last year in home runs (54), RBIs (290), walks (189), and slugging percentage (.477%).

Both Villanova (57 votes) and UConn (56 votes) were right behind DePaul (58 votes) in the coach’s preseason poll.

Despite the high expectations, head coach Tracie Adix-Zins and her staff have focused on keeping their team calm.

“I told them not to go in with too big of a head of, oh we’re just going to roll because we’re first,” Adix-Zins said. “No, that makes teams want to beat us even more. So I talked to the team about just playing our softball and not getting caught up in it.”

The offense will likely go as far as senior first base Brooke Johnson will take them, who is coming off a career year. After being named to the All-BIG EAST Second Team in 2021, she took her game to the next level in 2022, hitting .389 with 13 homers. 

This led to her being named to the All-BIG EAST First Team — one of six Blue Demons to be named to the All-BIG East team.

Yet, the burden will not be on Johnson alone as she has plenty of protection in the lineup.

“Our team has a great offense,” senior outfielder Tori Meyer said. “All our bats are on fire, so we have been working to be more consistent. The Big East has plenty of new pitchers this year. We’re just going to be aggressive and try and jump on these new faces and beat them with our offense.”

A year ago, DePaul finished middle of the pack in the conference when it came to stolen bases — something the team emphasized over the off-season. Incoming freshmen Alexis Houge and Gracie Jacobs add much-needed speed to the lineup.

“I think we stole between 44-50 bases last year,” Adix-Zins said. “Because we’re missing some certain points in our offense, we want to be more aggressive. It isn’t just Alexis and Gracie that we want to steal. We want to steal Nicole. We want to steal Brooke. We want to steal everyone. Jimmy, our strength coach, has done an amazing job at increasing our speed. … Our offense is going to look a little bit different in having the ability to now pinch run people and add more speed to our game.”

Adix-Zins wants to see her team steal at least 100 bases.

DePaul didn’t return any of their pitchers from a year ago and in their stead is a mix of freshman and transfer students.

“It has been impressive how our new pitchers are acclimating,” shortstop Nicole Sullivan said. “It’s a new look for DePaul. We’re excited and confident about what they can do. All four of them are great additions.”

Meyer echoed her sentiments.

“They complement each other well,” Meyer said. “You have faster. Slower. It’s different looks for the other teams.”

Freshman Bella Nigey and Purdue transfer student Brenna Smith are two names to keep an eye on. 

Nigey was a standout at Davenport Assumption High School in Davenport, Iowa, posting a 0.80 ERA and 385 strikeouts. 

Smith spent the first three years of her collegiate career at Purdue, posting a 4.17 ERA in 95 2/3 innings last season. Joining them in the pitching staff is freshman Abbey Pochie and Central Florida transfer Katey Pierce.

With a revamped pitching staff and maybe the best offense in the conference, DePaul is primed to win its first Big East tournament title since 2019. Now, they must put everything together.

“Over the off-season we focused on being a team collectively, trusting each other and learning to build relations,” Johnson said. “I think that will help our production on the field this year.”