Gerry Glasco thought it was true on paper. Once the University of Louisiana at Lafayette head coach saw the Ragin’ Cajuns go through fall workouts, he was even more convinced.
This season’s team has the potential to be the best Glasco has fielded at Louisiana.
But can the Ragin’ Cajuns play a tough enough schedule for anyone to take notice?
That will be a challenge for the proven program playing in a mid-major conference. As major conference teams eliminate non-conference games and major tournaments get shelved, Louisiana has been left scrambling.
“We have a schedule, but it’s blowing up. People are calling and canceling,” Glasco said. “My schedule is built for RPI, but I’ve already had enough big games canceled. At some point, we may not end up playing hardly any of those games.”
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Louisiana was 18-6 with wins over Texas, LSU, Florida and Oklahoma State during the coronavirus-shortened 2020 season.
Along with adding yet another group of talented transfers, the Ragin’ Cajuns are getting an extra year of eligibility from seniors Summer (Ellyson) Summers, Alissa Dalton, Kaitlyn Alderink and Julie Rawls.
“That changed our whole ballclub,” Glasco said. “That made us a top-5 team instead of a top-20 team. I have never coached a team with this much talent.”
Louisiana just completed a fall season with multiple intrasquad scrimmages. The Ragin’ Cajuns started the fall with three teams playing games on the weekends in a round-robin format. Injuries eventually whittled the lineups down to two teams by the end of the fall.
“It was the best fall we have ever had since I’ve been coaching college because we are so deep,” Glasco said. “It was like a top-20 scrimmage every night. We just scrimmaged, scrimmaged and scrimmaged.”
Adding an extra layer of motivation, Louisiana held an All-Star game every Wednesday with the top 18 players selected based on what transpired during the weekend games.
“It made it really competitive and let the nine kids that didn’t make the All-Star game know they better go to work,” Glasco said. “I was really excited about our fall because we learned so much about our ballclub. We learned who our really good players are under pressure and we learned who wasn’t ready to get the job done under pressure.”
Given the health concerns entering the season, Glasco realizes depth on the 25-player roster could become a necessity.
“I think with the COVID situation, it’s very smart to keep the lineup fluid and keep a lot of people involved and getting reps and getting at-bats,” Glasco said. “If it comes down to a weekend where you have five to six players out and you win those games, that could be the team that comes out of the regular season with the highest seeds in the NCAA.”
But having strong results to show against Power 5 programs isn’t guaranteed. Louisiana will be ready to play anybody if it can work.
Glasco has seen what’s transpired in basketball, and is prepared to be just as creative with finding games at a moment’s notice if needed.
“I think this will be a year when you have a game canceled on a Tuesday and you are making phone calls saying, ‘Hey, we can come to your place this weekend?’” he said. “I really think that is going to happen in softball too.”
Louisiana has become a transfer portal destination, and this year was no different.
The Ragin’ Cajuns added Georgia transfers Ciara Bryan and Justice Milz, Arizona transfers Jenna Kean and Vanessa Foreman, Arizona State transfer Jade Gortarez and South Carolina transfer Karly Heath.
Bryan, a senior outfielder, batted .384 with 11 home runs, 31 RBIs and 39 runs scored in 28 games for Georgia last season. Milz, a senior infielder, hit .321 with nine RBIs in 39 at-bats.
“For Milz, it’s a matter of how much she has left and how healthy she is able to be,” Glasco said. “That will determine how much she can help us. I don’t have a clue if she will start or not. But if she’s healthy, I absolutely think she can help us.”
Gortarez teams with Dalton to provide Louisiana with enviable depth at shortstop. The two-time All-Pac-12 selection was ASU’s Defensive Player of the Year in 2018 and 2019. She batted .347 with 15 doubles, six home runs and 35 RBIs in 2019.
“They both had phenomenal falls. Dalton had the best fall she’s had since I’ve been here in four years,” Glasco said. “There is no doubt in my mind it was because she had to battle every day with Gortarez.”
Kean, a junior, was hitting .353 with eight starts in right field for Arizona before the season was cut short. She hit .509 during Louisiana’s fall season.
“She was our second-leading hitter in the fall and can really steal bases better than I ever expected,” Glasco said. “I believe if Jenna can hit .400 for me, and based on her fall I think she can do that, I could see her stealing 45 to 50 bases.”
Heath, a sophomore utility/pitcher, made 10 appearances at South Carolina in 2020, going 5-0 with a 2.86 ERA, 42 strikeouts and 21 walks.
“She has the potential to really help us in the circle and she also has looked really good at times offensively,” Glasco said. “She will definitely be in competition in the outfield to start for us.”
Foreman, a sophomore left-hander, was 1-0 with a 3.75 ERA in 9.1 innings pitched as a freshman at Arizona in 2019.
“She can bring something different to our bullpen as a lefty. She is a crafty type pitcher, a spin pitcher,” Glasco said. “She is going to beat you by outsmarting you and moving the ball around to different locations and changing speeds.”
Among the true freshmen on Louisiana’s roster, Sophie Piskos and Kyleigh Sand stood out. Piskos, a catcher/infielder from Paris, Tenn., hit .360 in the fall.
“She is definitely going to compete to play,” Glaso said. “I don’t really see any freshman cracking the starting lineup for sure, but I think Piskos can make a run at it.”
Sand, a shortstop from Norco, California, hit .320 in the fall.
“She was tremendous this fall and is starting to hit the ball over the fence. She came in as a singles hitter and has really developed power in the fall,” Glasco said. “Unfortunately for her, she’s in back of Gortarez and Dalton at shortstop. It’s going to be tough, but she’s really special. If she doesn’t become a full-time starter for us, I am going to try my best to redshirt her. I want her in my infield for four years. Kyleigh Sand will be a big-time player for Louisiana before she leaves hopefully.”
Ace Summer Ellyson became Summer Summers after getting married in the fall.
The right hander was 11-1 with a 1.83 ERA, 80 strikeouts and 13 walks in 76.1 innings pitched during the 2020 season.
Having decided to return for an extra year of eligibility, her fall was a bit more hectic than normal while planning for a wedding.
Given her impending nuptials, the Ragin’ Cajuns wanted Summers to throw mainly in the bullpen and during one-on-one workouts instead of facing many live batters.
“The last two weeks of fall we didn’t even let her pitch. What if somebody hit her with a line drive to the face? We just wanted to take care of her for her wedding and go light and easy this fall,” Glasco said. “She had a heavy load on her from the standpoint of getting ready for the wedding and all the stress involved with that.”
Megan Kleist (7-5 with a 2.31 ERA, 70 strikeouts and 20 walks in 72.2 IP) decided not to return for another season, so the Ragin’ Cajuns are hoping to use more depth to fill the void.
“We need (Kandra) Lamb, Foreman and Heath to develop this season because they will be a big part of our bullpen for the next two seasons,” Glasco said. “We need them to have good solid years so we don’t have to ride one pitcher like we’ve done the last couple of years.”
Lamb, a sophomore right hander from Australia, redshirted last season. She’s been consistently throwing in the mid-60s, according to Glasco.
“We need her to have a breakout year and burst onto the college softball scene and become a pitcher Louisiana people know about,” he said. “We have seen enough potential at practice to believe it can happen. She showed signs of being very elite at times this fall.”
Freshman outfielder Taylor Roman had a strong fall, hitting over .450 after batting .255 with three doubles, two home runs and nine RBIs in her debut season in 2020.
“She is just a phenomenal talent. She is 6-foot tall and the second fastest girl on our team home-to-home,” Glasco said. “I think she could have a breakout year. She really has that phenomenal power like a Jocelyn Alo at OU or (Alyssa) DiCarlo at Georgia. She has that type of potential.”
After batting .290 with 10 RBIs and 19 runs scored in 2020, Dalton hit .526 in the fall.
“That is the highest fall average I’ve ever had a player have,” Glasco said. “She was great.”
Alderink, who batted .364 with six doubles and 20 runs scored in 2020 missed the fall after having minor knee surgery.
“But she will be back,” Glasco said. “The timing of it didn’t allow her to practice in the fall, but she will be able to go full time in January.”
Junior outfielder Raina O’Neal hit .338 with four home runs, three doubles, 12 RBIs and 10 stolen bases in 11 attempts in 2020. Junior infielder Melissa Mayeux batted .294 with four home runs, four doubles and 19 RBIs. Rawls hit .315 with five home runs, four doubles and 18 RBIs
Glasco is hoping for a more consistent output in 2021 from junior Bailey Curry, who hit .191 with three home runs and 12 RBIs last season.
“She has the potential to be a big-time hitter for us,” he said. “She is one of those kids who if she gets hot early in the year she can definitely put up big numbers.”
Dalton, O’Neal, Rawls and junior pitcher Casey Dixon are four players that have led through action and words on and off the field.
But with the incoming transfers entering the fold, the Ragin’ Cajuns don’t want to put limits on taking roles.
“I want everybody to have a chance to contribute to the leadership of our ballclub and be like an NPF team,” Glasco said. “We don’t want to have prefabricated opinions or preset lineups. We want to be wide open and ready to compete in all areas.”