Charitsis’ mid-season check-in: Sky’s the limit for Stanford softball

March 16, 2023, 11:30 p.m.

The Pac-12 season starts now. It’s time to check in with No. 7 Stanford softball (22-2, 0-0 Pac-12). What have we seen so far in the pre-season? What should we expect going forward?

With such a strong roster, the Cardinal appeared poised to break many records in 2023. After all, they have been improving every year since Jessica Allister ’04 took over as the head coach: from 24-31, 3-21 Pac-12 in 2018, to 33-20, 8-13 Pac-12 in 2019 and 33-22, 9-12 Pac-12 in 2021. Last year’s 39 overall and 11 conference wins were the most in the program since the 2013 season (39-21, 13-11 Pac-12). This year’s team is so talented that it seems almost impossible not to shatter this record. Stanford has won 91.7% of the games so far (22 out of 24), losing only to back-to-back defending champions No. 1 Oklahoma (22-1, 0-0 Big 12) and gifting a match to No. 15 Duke (21-5, 4-2 ACC). But the team is undefeated since Feb. 2, and has extended its win streak to 22. Obviously, Pac-12 competition will present many challenges, but the Cardinal have every reason to believe that the success so far has not been accidental. Let’s break down why.


In 2022, a strong defense was Stanford’s most valuable asset on the way to a successful season. And in 2023, it has progressed even further. Freshman pitcher NiJaree Canady is key to this improvement, as she has put on spectacular performances. Her record is as immaculate as it gets, featuring eight wins (all shutouts) and zero losses. The power pitcher from Kansas is the queen of no-hitters (two so far). Canady is known for her power: Stanford has not allowed a single run and won all its matches with her on the mound.

Senior pitcher Alana Vawter has put down impressive numbers, with nine wins (four shutouts) and only one loss. She is the queen of the circle for a reason. Vawter knows better than anyone how to mix up her pitches, making them hard to read and throwing off the most elite batters.

An interesting idea is to have Canady and Vawter pitch in the same game. Canady is particularly strong starting the match, whereas Vawter can step in by the time the opposing batters start getting a feel of Canady’s pitches. Sharing time could keep them fresh for back-to-back games in a series. Substituting a pitcher who is allowing no hits or runs is quite unusual. However, as a coach, you have to read the game as it unfolds and pick up on adjustments by the opposing batters. This may be the time to shuffle the cards against the top teams and secure the shutout. It won’t surprise me if the coaches dance with this idea at some point later in the spring.

Junior Regan Krause, the team’s third starting pitcher, has been nothing but phenomenal. Her record includes five wins (three shutouts) and a single loss.

An unsung hero who does not get the credit she deserves is assistant coach Tori Nyberg ’03. She has put together arguably the best pitching roster in the nation. Just like Allister, Nyberg had a spectacular collegiate career, finishing as a top-10 pitcher in the program’s history, before returning to her alma mater as a coach. The two have even more in common, as they were teammates from 2001-03. As a catcher, Allister had to rely on Nyberg more than anyone else on the team. So does she now as the head coach. Life comes full circle.

Undoubtedly, the dominance on the mound has helped Stanford extend its win streak to 20 and the shutout streak to eight (with 15 so far in total). However, defense is not a one-person show, and no-hitters are rare. Every time Vawter, Canady or Krause are in the circle, they know that their teammates on the field have their back. This sort of confidence booster relieves much of the pitcher’s pressure.


The Cardinal have been quite productive so far. It all starts again with the defense. You can’t trail on the scoreboard if you don’t allow runs. That’s the recipe to swing loose. And when you do so, good things happen. Stanford has finished with eight runs or more in about a third of their matches so far. It seems that the magical number to get the W is three runs, and the Cardinal have surpassed this threshold 92% of the time this season. Competition is strong in the Pac-12 and these numbers will likely drop, but the big picture won’t change.

We had an idea of what to expect from last year’s starters before February. However, there are pleasant surprises this season: freshmen infielders River Mahler and Emily Jones, sophomore catcher Allie Clements and junior outfielder Caelan Koch, to name a few. Let’s go over the stats for the athletes who meet the minimum requirement (i.e., have played in 75% of games and averaged two plate appearances per game).

#22 River Mahler (Second Base)

The freshman from Washington had big shoes to fill coming to the Farm, but she rose to the occasion. She has started in all 24 games and leads the team with an impressive .447 batting average and hits (34). Add to that 13 runs, 13 RBIs and the second-highest on-base percentage plus slugging percentage (OPS) with 1.014. What a way to start her college career!

#18 Emily Jones (Third Base)

The freshman from Westlake Village, Calif. has started in 22 of her 23 total games. She has recorded 15 runs, 21 hits and 12 RBIs, batting on average .333 in her 63 trips to the plate. The transition from high school softball to starting for one of the nation’s top programs is a tough challenge that Jones passed with flying colors.

#22 Allie Clements (Catcher)

The sophomore from Texas is one of the two most improved athletes on the team. As a freshman, she never started in any of the eight games she played and finished the season with no runs, hits and RBIs. A year later, her stats have skyrocketed. She has already played in 18 games and started in 11 of them. In 31 batting appearances, she averages .333. She has contributed two home runs, five runs, 10 hits and 11 RBIs and an OPS of 1.002. When asked often to pinch-hit or pinch-run, she delivers.

#3 Caelan Koch (Left Field)

The junior from Arizona is as mentally strong as anybody. In 2022 she saw action early in the season but then lost her spot on the lineup. However, she did not let that drag her down. Instead, it motivated her to train hard. The work she put in did not go unnoticed. Allister has started her in all 24 games, which in return saw Koch elevating her batting average from .200 to .333. Her offensive record includes the most home runs (four), eight runs, 15 hits, 17 RBIs and an OPS of .998. She and Clements are undeniably the most improved players.

#25 Taylor Gindlesperger (Center Field)

The graduate student from Arizona is the leader in most offensive categories. Gindlesperger, who has started in all 24 games, has the most runs (21), the most doubles (six), the most triples (three), the most total bases (44), the highest OPS (1.023), the second-highest batting average (.410) and is second in total hits (32). What stands out is her short memory when she steps on the plate, a rare gift even among professional athletes. Whether she hit only home runs or was struck out looking makes no difference. She completely blocks out what happened earlier in the game.

#13 Emily Schultz (First Base)

The graduate student from Illinois has started in all 24 games. Her batting average jumped from .242 in 2022 to .349 so far, which did not come as a surprise. She leads the Cardinal in doubles (six) and triples (three) and has registered 15 runs, 22 hits and 18 RBIs.

#2 Emily Young (Shortstop)

The graduate student from Ohio has started in all 24 games. Until recently, her batting average was uncharacteristically low for her standards due to a slow start. Currently it is sitting at .228, but it has been on a steep rise since she found her groove. It seems like just a matter of time before Young surpasses the .300 mark.

#21 Kaitlyn Lim (Right Field)

The senior from Irvine, Calif. has started in all 24 games. She is also a well-rounded player who had a relatively slow start like Young. Her batting average is .288 at the moment, but Lim tends to find that extra gear later in the season and elevate her game when it counts the most. She is second in runs (18).

#4 Aly Kaneshiro (Catcher)

The junior from Santa Clarita, Calif. has started all 24 games. ‘Biggie’ is leading in home runs (four) and RBIs (20), and is second in doubles (five) and total bases (41). Her batting average is .291. She hit a home run against Oklahoma. Hopefully, she will repeat is again in June as the two teams are likely to face each other again in the College World Series.

All these numbers do not mean anything for the athletes individually. After all, a sacrifice can count more than a home run sometimes, and they know that. No one on the team cares for individual stats or accolades, which is why everyone, including the staff, adds a piece to the success.


It is no secret that Stanford has one of the best rosters. Entering the season ranked No. 17 had no basis in reality. Those who follow the sport know that it is a top-five team. Currently, the team sits at No. 7 in NFCA’s rankings or even No. 2 in other rankings. The Sooners are No. 1 only because they beat the Cardinal – a loss that paints an entirely incorrect picture. They met in the second game of the season, which, for three athletes, was also the second game of their college careers. Neither Canady nor Vawter pitched that day. With Krause in the circle, Stanford had a solid game except for one inning.

Since then, the Cardinal has drastically elevated their game and the rankings. Nevertheless, rankings do not crown champions. As the saying goes, “defense earns championships.” Stanford has arguably the best defense in the nation and therefore has the right to dream big. The team has always found a way to score. Even a single run is enough to secure the W, which makes Stanford a formidable opponent. Going forward, the expectations are high. As crazy as it may sound, the Cardinal are the favorite to clinch every Pac-12 series. The toughest hurdle to clear in the Pac-12 is No. 3 UCLA (25-2, 2-1 Pac-12). Last year, the Cardinal did so at home and it was considered a big upset. Repeating it in Los Angeles on April Fool’s weekend should not fool anyone as it will probably not be an upset anymore. During the Pac-12 season, Stanford may drop a series opener. A loss is often the outcome of a bad day or risks that do not pay off until later in the post-season. Allister is known for giving every athlete field time. She does not hesitate to ask non-starters to pinch-hit in critical moments, as she knows there is no such thing as emulating experience. The only way to gain it is to actually be in these situations. Either way, losses are part of the journey and the Cardinal should not let them take anything away from their excitement. Reminding themselves how difficult it is to be beaten twice is the best recipe for clinching any series.
Given the undeniable talent, playing loose and staying healthy are the only requirements for success. As long as the team approaches every match with the right mentality (i.e., the most important game is always the one coming up), winning the Pac-12 title or punching a ticket to the College World Series are significant goals to accomplish, but not the roof. The only limit is the sky.

Charis is a recent alum (Ph.D.’23). If CS is his hobby, sports is his passion. Firm believer that the coach is the most important position in every team sport. A member of the sports section but not a journalist by any stretch of the imagination.

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