Florida State head coach Lonni Alameda is in her 14th year at the helm in Tallahassee. In that time she has elevated the Seminoles into an elite national program. FSU has made the NCAA Tournament every year that she has been the head coach except for 2020 when the tournament was cancelled. Florida State has advanced to the Super Regionals in each of the past eight years. In four of those years FSU has appeared in the College World Series and of course the Noles won it all in 2018.
FSU has been extremely successful in the ACC as well. Florida State won the ACC regular season crown for six straight years (2013-2018). The Seminoles won the conference tournament in 2011. FSU won the conference tournament for six straight years from 2014 through 2019.
Last year the Seminoles finished the season with a record of 49-13-1. Florida State advanced to the College World Series after winning the Baton Rouge Super Regional over LSU. FSU advanced to the Championship Series of the College World Series winning the first game of the series before coming within six outs of the championship in the second game of the series. The Seminoles would eventually fall in the third game to Oklahoma.
Florida State will attempt to return to the College World Series this year. Let’s take a deeper look at Team 39.
Mackenzie “Mack” Leonard
Due to the pandemic, the 2020 season was prematurely cut short. Therefore, the NCAA decided to not count the 2020 season when determining eligibility. As a result, everyone (including seniors) were allowed to come back for an extra year. Of course incoming freshmen were allowed to join their college teams. This means that rosters were larger in 2021 than normal for most teams. The rosters have remained large this season. In the 2020 season (the last pre-Covid season) FSU had 22 players on the roster. Last year there were 25 players on the roster. This year there will be 27 Seminoles on the roster.
Florida State welcomes another highly rated recruiting class this year. When added to the talent already on hand in Tallahassee this will increase the competition at some spots. Also, the coaches have been cross-training players at different positions to take advantage of the versatility offered by different players. In short, we will discuss where players are likely to play this season but things can (and probably will) change as the season progresses.
Florida State loses long time center fielder Dani Morgan to graduation. However, a pair of Seminoles enjoyed breakout seasons last year and will return to the outfield. As a freshman last year Kalei Harding announced her arrival in a big way. Harding took over the right field spot on March 13th and never gave it up. Harding posted robust numbers at the plate (.278/.357/.472, 6 HR, 42 RBI, 10 SB) and she was no slouch in the field.
Kaley Mudge will join Harding in the outfield. Mudge (.333/.367/.400, 7 RBI, 7 SB) took over for good in left field on May 14th against Duke. That was also the day that Mudge became FSU’s lead-off hitter. Mudge was dynamite for Florida State all post season last year but her best performance came in the second game against Alabama in the College World Series. Mudge went 5 for 5 against the Tide with a pair of runs scored and 2 RBI.
The third outfield spot is up for grabs. We could see a number of players join Harding and Mudge in the outfield but Jahni Kerr is a player to watch. Kerr only played four games last season before going down for the year with a knee injury. She is healthy this year and the coaches will have a hard time keeping a player with her talent on the bench.
Anna Shelnutt graduated so the Seminoles will be looking for another catcher for the first time in a long while. This will be a place where we will see a pitched position battle. Because Shelnutt caught most of the innings last year there isn’t a ton of experience returning. Kaia LoPreste has the most experience of the returning catchers and she had all of 24 at bats last year. Redshirt freshman Michaela Edenfield and true freshman Katie Bright will challenge LoPreste for playing time.
Elizabeth Mason was another long time Nole who graduated. Mason started every game at first base last year so her departure leaves the position completely open. There is a good chance that a transfer will take over the position. Mack Leonard came to FSU from Illinois State University where she put up big numbers for the Redbirds. Last year Leonard started all 41 games for ISU at first base. She hit .425/.532/.756 with 10 HR, 38 RBI and 96 total bases. If she can come anywhere close to those numbers FSU will be well positioned at first base. Bethaney Keen is another transfer (South Florida) who will challenge for playing time at first base.
Devyn Flaherty took over at second base starting every game for FSU at the position last year. Flaherty (.281/.365/.405, 5 HR, 22 RBI, 19 for 19 SB) will likely start every game this year as well.
Josie Muffley (.199/.339/.250, 1 HR, 18 RBI, 10 SB) started every game for Florida State at shortstop last year. Muffley was as tough as they come while providing dependable defense and great moments.
However, Brooke Blankenship has finally arrived in Tallahassee. The former five-star recruit from Hudson, FL is a future superstar who is dripping with talent. Blankenship was rated as a top 5 recruit by Extra Innings Softball. This position battle at shortstop will be one of the most competitive we will see this season.
All-Everything graduate student Sydney Sherrill returns at third base. Sherrill (.304/.464/.440 with 2 HR, 34 RBI, 15 SB) is simply one of the best all around players in the nation. Sherrill also provides plus defense at the hot corner along with a rifle arm. Sherrill was named to the first team preseason All-ACC team. She is the only player remaining from the 2018 championship team. Sherrill is the unquestioned leader of this team.
Florida State will feature a deep staff. The coaches have confidence that they can use any of these pitchers either to start or in relief.
Kathryn Sandercock is the ace of this staff. The D1 Softball pre-season All-American was 27-4 with a 1.25 ERA last season. The great numbers from last year tell part of the story but Sandercock was great for FSU in the post season last year in pressure moments. As a senior this year Sandercock seems poised to take her place as one of the best pitchers in the nation.
Danielle Watson (12-2, 2.63 ERA) is a player who seemed to get better as the season went on last year. The coaches recognized this and had the confidence to give Watson the ball for the first game of the Championship Series last year against Oklahoma. Watson responded by earning the win pitching 5.2 impressive innings against the best lineup in college softball. She gave up 6 hits, 4 runs (all earned) with no walks and 5 strikeouts to earn the win. Watson will be relied on this year as well to provide important innings in the circle.
Emma Wilson and Brianna Enter are pitchers that the coaches are confident will take a step forward this season.
Ali DuBois is a senior pitcher who was the ace for Boston University last season. DuBois was 25-2 with a 1.05 ERA, .98 WHIP, and 17 complete games in 159.1 innings for the Terriers. DuBois was pitching in the Patriot League. However, if DuBois can come close to replicating the numbers she posted last year for BU she will be a major asset for the Noles.
Finally, when Mack Leonard isn’t at first base she may get a chance to pitch a few innings in the circle.
Florida State has been ranked either five or six in the various preseason polls. FSU was six outs away from a second national championship last year. That success was earned through stout defense, tough pitching and (perhaps most importantly) timely hitting. The Seminoles have plenty of talent and are a true contender to make it back to the College World Series in Oklahoma City. Last year the hitting numbers were not as strong as past seasons but the clutch hitting more than compensated.
The Seminoles will be favorites to regain their ACC title. The main competition figures to come from Clemson, Duke and Virginia Tech.
However, at FSU the focus is on national championships not conference championships. The coaches are confident in this pitching staff. If this faith turns out to be warranted a return trip to Oklahoma City is certainly not out of the question.
Florida State will start the season from JoAnne Graf Field on Friday in a double header against Mercer (3pm) and Kennesaw State (5:30pm). Both games will be broadcast on the ACC Network Extra.