For its first competitions in 348 days, Stanford softball will take the field to face San Jose State in a three-game series on Friday and Saturday before following up the action with a pair of contests against Santa Clara on Sunday and Tuesday.
The Spartans versus Cardinal action will take place on the Farm at the Boyd & Jill Smith Family Stadium, falling in line with adjusted Santa Clara County coronavirus restrictions that had previously banned most sports within county limits.
Stanford had 26 games under its belt last year before the season was cut short due to the rapidly evolving COVID-19 pandemic. During those 26 games, the Cardinal had cruised to its best start to the season since 2012, with just four losses accompanying 22 wins. In light of the abbreviated season, the NCAA granted spring athletes an extra year of collegiate eligibility, giving Stanford the opportunity to return seniors Teaghan Cowles, Montana Dixon, Nikki Bauer and Kristina Inouye for 2021 play.
Cowles set a Stanford softball program record for career triples last season on Feb. 28 after recording her 19th in an 8-0 shutout victory over Pacific. She led the Pac-12 with six triples in the 2020 season — good enough for second in the nation — and radiated consistency in the batter’s box, where she also recorded six doubles, a home run, 11 RBIs and 26 scored runs while hitting .390.
Junior outfielder Taylor Gindlesperger returns for her junior season after having recorded a team-high .402 batting average at the abrupt close of the 2020 competition. She also sent in 24 RBIs and boasted 13 stolen bases, just behind Cowles’ 11.
The pair’s accomplishments demonstrate a degree of talent and experience on a team with 11 freshmen and sophomores, the latter of whom have still yet to face the majority of the Pac-12 Conference teams. The Cardinal’s youthfulness is not to be entirely considered a fault, however, as the team spent significant time last season developing sophomore pitchers Alana Vawter and Tatum Boyd. As freshmen, the duo accounted for nearly 70% of Stanford’s innings pitched, with Vawter spending 61.1 innings in the circle and Boyd pitching for 57.1.
For the second year in a row, the team was picked to finish sixth in the Pac-12 Conference this season in the 2021 Pac-12 Softball Preseason Coaches Poll. UCLA claimed the top spot in the poll, followed by Arizona, Washington, Arizona State and Oregon before the Cardinal. Utah, Oregon State and Cal earned the bottom three spots.
Not represented by the conference polls is the fact that Stanford has consistently dominated against its two upcoming Santa Clara County opponents, going 24-11 over San Jose historically and 53-4 over Santa Clara.
The weekend action — and 2021 season — commences on Friday at 6 p.m. PT against the Spartans.