Despite a busy preseason, ASU softball eyes WCWS run as 2023 season begins

ASU outfielder Jazmine Hill takes batting practice in preparation for Thursday’s start to the season at the San Diego State Season Kickoff. Hill earned Softball America preseason third team All-American honors. (Photo by Kade Cameron/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Arizona State softball’s Jazmine Hill and Yannira Acuña were named to Softball America’s preseason top 100 rankings ahead of the 2023 season, but don’t ask them about it.

The standouts only want to focus on the season – which opens Thursday against California State University, Northridge and San Diego State – and making a second consecutive run at the Pac-12 championship and Women’s College World Series.

“If it was up to me, I wish there were no rankings,” said Hill, a senior outfielder. “Obviously it pushes me to work harder and prove people wrong, but I think those rankings are biased.”

Biased or not, the voters favor this year’s ASU softball team. Hill earned Softball America preseason third team All-American honors and Acuña, a fifth-year outfielder, made the Softball America and Division I Softball Preseason All-American first team while also receiving preseason All-Pac-12 team honors.

Hill and Acuña are two of nine returners from an ASU softball team that finished 43-11 last year and won the Pac-12 championship. Along with 13 new faces on this year’s roster, ASU coach Megan Bartlett enters her first season with the team after Trisha Ford left to join Texas A&M in the offseason.

Bartlett was an assistant coach at Texas for two seasons, which included a trip to the WCWS Finals last year. She was named ASU’s new coach last June, and over the course of the last seven months has focused primarily on rebuilding the roster due to players leaving in the transfer portal.

“We had some really good ones choose a different path prior to me being named head coach, but we also kept some amazing athletes and we put some pretty good ones around them,” Bartlett said.

Despite the major changes brought by the transfer portal, the pitching staff is one of the team’s strongest assets this season. ASU added Deborah Jones, Kenzie Brown and Mackenzie Osborne from the transfer portal and the return of fifth-year senior Marissa Schuld, who had a 2.09 ERA in 27 games last season.

“I can speak for my hitters – I’m really excited to not have to face our own pitching staff,” Bartlett said.

Bartlett recognizes the power athletes like Hill, Acuña and senior Jazmyn Rollin bring to the plate, and believes the trio could be at the top of the lineup in any program in the country. Last season, Hill hit .335 with 15 home runs and 54 RBI for the Sun Devils while Acuña hit .430 with 14 home runs and 43 RBI. If the offense can support the pitching staff, Bartlett likes her team’s chances this season.

In 2022, ASU led the Pac-12 in home runs, RBI and walks as well as ranking third in the conference with a .315 batting average. The Sun Devils were one of the best teams in the conference at the plate despite ranking ninth in total plate appearances.

In addition to Bartlett, mental performance coach Justin Foster has made a major impact on the players and their health on and off the field. Foster has been working with individual players, including Acuña, and Bartlett mentioned that Foster’s work has helped the team see eye-to-eye.

“I feel like my body already knows how to play softball,” Acuña said. “It’s always just how I’m working with the mental side of the game and how I’m being better as an athlete, the mental side, not just the physical.”

After Thursday’s doubleheader, the Sun Devils play another doubleheader Friday against Northern Illinois and Notre Dame, before wrapping up the San Diego State Season Kickoff against Memphis on Saturday.

Kade Cameron kayd KAM-uh-run (he/him/his)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Kade Cameron expects to graduate in May 2023 with a bachelor’s in sports journalism. Cameron has had previous experiences with the Varsity Sports Show, Blaze Radio and Downtown Devil.