St. Louis, Mo., Feb. 7, 2018 — The Washington University in St. Louis softball team is ranked No. 17 in the 2018 National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Preseason Division III Top-25 Poll, as announced Wednesday by the organization. The Bears are ranked in the preseason poll for the fourth time in the last five years.
Reigning national champion Virginia Wesleyan starts the season as the No. 1 team in the NFCA Division III Top 25 softball rankings. The Marlins set a Division III record for wins in a season in 2017, going 54-3 en route to their first NCAA Division III crown.
WashU returns six starters and 12 letterwinners from last year's squad that posted a 27-14 record and qualified for the NCAA Tournament for the 15th time in the last 16 years. The Bears also won their 10th University Athletic Association (UAA) title in school history.
Arends, a first-team all-UAA and second-team all-Midwest Region honoree, started all 41 games at shortstop and hit a team-high .418 with one homerun and 31 RBIs. She was first in the UAA in triples (3) and third in RBIs (31) and hits (58). Arends was also second on the squad with 18 multiple-hit games.
McKee, the 2017 UAA Pitcher of the Year, posted a 17-4 record with a 1.70 earned run average with six shutouts and 16 complete games. She also earned first-team all-UAA and second-team all-Midwest Region honors. McKee, a preseason Fastpitch News Honorable-Mention All-America selection, ranked first in the conference in six categories: shutouts, wins, complete games, appearances (30), innings pitched (148.2) and strikeouts (162).
Senior pitcher Maggie Clapp also returns in the circle after earning second-team all-UAA honors. Clapp posted a 9-10 record with a 2.06 earned run average with three shutouts and eight complete games. She also hit .289 with four doubles and two RBIs at the plate. Clapp allowed five earned runs in the final 53 innings of the season, and ranked second in the UAA in shutouts and sixth in wins.
Joining Arends in the infield will be senior first baseman Mackenzie Gauden and junior second baseman Josi Elder. Senior infielder Hera Tang (.361, six doubles, 24 RBIs) and sophomore Mikaela Arredondo (.211, four doubles, 17 RBIs) combined to make all 41 starts a year ago at third base.
Sophomore outfielder Amy Walsh hit .457 with two RBIs but missed 22 games with an injury. Walsh is the Bears leading returning hitter. Senior outfielder Ashley Madsen started 16 of 32 games played with six stolen bases.
Venturella added four freshmen who will have an opportunity to make an immediate impact following the graduation of four starters: catcher Julia Flores, Northridge, Calif. (Granada Hills Charter), pitcher Abby Graegin, Valparaiso, Ind. (Andrean), utility player Natasha Ramakrishnan, Saratoga, Calif. (Saratoga) and pitcher Kendall Schwartz, Phoenix, Ariz. (Desert Vista).
Venturella has an overall record of 222-219 (.503) in nine seasons as a collegiate head coach after spending eight seasons at Division I Illinois-Chicago.
WashU opens the 2018 season at home on Sunday, March 4, against Webster University. The Bears will have seven games against teams ranked in the month of March.