2018 Softball Season in Review
June 13, 2018

The 2018 Big Ten Conference softball season produced success both in the classroom and on the diamond. In the academic arena, three conference students earned Google Cloud Academic All-America® honors, with five Big Ten students garnering Google Cloud Academic All-District® accolades and no fewer than 144 conference softball standouts receiving Academic All-Big Ten recognition. These honors were supported by another strong season in the field, as five Big Ten programs earned a berth in the NCAA Tournament and four conference schools appeared in one or both of the major national polls at year’s end.

Here’s a look back at the highlights from the 2018 Big Ten softball season:

Big Ten Postgraduate Scholarship Recipient: Iowa senior infielder Sarah Kurtz was selected as one of her institution’s two recipients of the Big Ten Postgraduate Scholarship for 2017-18. Kurtz, a three-time Academic All-Big Ten honoree and two-time Big Ten Distinguished Scholar, graduated from Iowa in May with her degree in sports and recreation management, as well as a minor in education. Further information on this award can be found by clicking here.

Academic All-Americans: Three Big Ten softball standouts collected Google Cloud Academic All-America® honors in 2018, according to the College Sports Information Directors of America (CoSIDA). Michigan State’s Kristina Zalewski was a first-team selection, while teammate Lea Foerster and Minnesota’s Kendyl Lindaman both were third-team honorees. It marked the sixth consecutive season and 10th time in conference history the Big Ten produced at least three softball Academic All-Americans, with Foerster and Zalewski both earning the honor for the second consecutive season. The full release on this year’s Big Ten Academic All-Americans is located here.

Academic All-District: The Big Ten saw five softball students receive Google Cloud Academic All-District® recognition from CoSIDA this season. In addition to eventual Academic All-Americans Foerster, Lindaman and Zalewski, two others earned first-team Academic All-District citations — Illinois’ Stephanie Abello and Minnesota’s Sydney Dwyer — with Foerster receiving her third Academic All-District honor and Abello, Dwyer and Zalewski collecting their second Academic All-District awards. More information on the Big Ten Academic All-District honorees may be read here.

Academic All-Big Ten: All 14 Big Ten programs were represented among the 144 softball students that received Academic All-Big Ten honors in 2018. For the fourth consecutive season, that group included Michigan State pitcher Kristina Zalewski, who was among 29 Big Ten students competing in spring or at-large sports to maintain a perfect 4.0 cumulative GPA. The roster of spring and at-large Big Ten Academic All-Big Ten selections is shown here.

Big Ten Outstanding Sportsmanship Award: Illinois’ Taylor Edwards was chosen as one of her school’s two recipients of the Big Ten Outstanding Sportsmanship Award for the 2017-18 academic year. Edwards is the first Fighting Illini softball student to receive the honor since 2014, when Jenna Mychko was recognized. For more information, click here.

Senior CLASS Award Candidates: Three Big Ten students — Indiana’s Rebecca Blitz, Michigan State’s Lea Foerster and Ohio State’s Taylor White — were among 30 candidates for this year’s Senior CLASS Award, which is presented annually to a senior softball student who has made notable achievements in the award’s four areas of excellence: community, classroom, character and competition. More details on this award can be found here.

NCAA Tournament: Five Big Ten schools — Michigan, Minnesota, Northwestern, Ohio State and Wisconsin — earned their way into this year’s NCAA Tournament, with all five challenged by competing on the road. Three conference programs battled their way to their respective regional championship games before falling to the host school (all of whom would go on to play in the NCAA Women’s College World Series). Big Ten Tournament champion Minnesota rebounded from an opening loss at the NCAA Seattle Regional to Texas with an elimination game win over the Longhorns to reach a regional final for the fourth time in five years before losing to fifth-seeded Washington, 5-2. Northwestern made its first trip to a regional final since 2014 and its seventh regional championship game appearance since the current format was introduced in 2005, earning a pair of one-run wins over California at the NCAA Athens Regional before bowing to seventh-seeded Georgia in the title game, 9-7. Ohio State advanced to its first NCAA regional championship game since 2010 (and the fifth in program history) with two wins over South Florida, but dropped a 4-0 decision to No. 2 seed Florida in the Gainesville Regional final. In addition, Big Ten Champion Michigan competed in the NCAA Lexington Regional, going 1-2 at the event, while Wisconsin won its opening game at the NCAA Tuscaloosa Regional over Oregon State before losing its next two contests. The complete results and recaps from the five Big Ten schools that participated in the 2018 NCAA Tournament can be found here.

Big Ten Champions: Michigan secured its 20th Big Ten title and 10th in the past 11 seasons with an 8-0 five-inning win over Ohio State on May 5. The Wolverines finished the Big Ten season with an 18-3 record, one game better than runner-up Minnesota. For more on this year’s conference race, click here and  here.

Big Ten Tournament: For the third consecutive year and fourth time in five years, Minnesota earned the Big Ten Tournament championship and the conference’s automatic berth in the NCAA Tournament, defeating Northwestern in this year’s title game, 9-6 on May 13 at Goodman Diamond in Madison, Wisconsin. On a tournament weekend that saw numerous games delayed by weather, including the title contest which was moved to Sunday, the second-seeded Golden Gophers prevailed, jumping out to a 6-0 lead and holding on to turn back the fourth-seeded Wildcats. Minnesota junior outfielder Maddie Houlihan was named the Big Ten Tournament Most Outstanding Player, batting .778 (7-for-9) in three games at the tournament with five RBI and four runs scored. A full recap of this year’s Big Ten Tournament is available here.

Final Rankings: Four Big Ten schools were ranked or receiving votes in the final 2018 NFCA/USA Today poll, led by No. 21 Minnesota and No. 22 Michigan, with Northwestern and Ohio State also receiving votes. In the final USA Softball/ESPN.com poll, four Big Ten schools were ranked, with Minnesota leading the way at No. 17, followed by No. 21 Michigan, and Northwestern and Ohio State tying for No. 24 in the year-end voting. The final NFCA and USA Softball polls can be found here and here.

All-Big Ten Honors: The 14 Big Ten coaches cast their ballots for the 2018 All-Big Ten teams and individual award recipients in early May. Minnesota sophomore catcher Kendyl Lindaman was named the Big Ten Player of the Year for the second consecutive season, becoming the eighth Big Ten student to earn the honor in back-to-back seasons and the first since Michigan’s Sierra Romero in 2013 and 2014. Michigan’s Meghan Beaubien was chosen as the Big Ten Pitcher and Freshman of the Year, the fourth conference newcomer to collect both awards in the same season and the first since Minnesota’s Sara Groenewegen in 2014. Michigan’s Hall of Fame coach, Carol Hutchins, was recognized as the Big Ten Coach of the Year for the 17th time in her career and the eighth time in the past 11 seasons. The complete list of the 2018 All-Big Ten teams and individual honorees is available to view here.

NCAA Statistical Leaders: Michigan freshman pitcher Meghan Beaubien finished as the NCAA statistical champion in total victories (33), while placing third nationally in hits allowed per seven innings (3.26) and sixth in shutouts (12). In addition, Michigan State senior outfielder Lea Foerster was second in the nation in doubles per game (0.42), and Illinois junior outfielder Kiana Sherlund was third in the country in triples (8) as well as fourth in triples per game (0.15). Ohio State junior shortstop Lilli Piper was fifth in the country in home runs per game (0.38), while Minnesota sophomore catcher Kendyl Lindaman was the other Big Ten student to finish in the top five nationally in a statistical category, winding up No. 5 in walks per game (0.95).

In the final NCAA team statistical reports, Rutgers was second in the nation in double plays per game (0.70), with Michigan placing third in fielding percentage (.983) and Illinois ranking No. 4 in scoring (6.36 runs per game). All NCAA Division I softball statistics for the 2018 season are located here.  

Updating The Record Book: Michigan State senior outfielder Lea Foerster set a Big Ten record for career doubles (75), while Spartan junior outfielder Ebonee Echols already owns a share of the conference record for career triples (23), matching the 33-year-old mark set by Michigan’s Lisa Panetta from 1982-85. Furthermore, Ohio State’s Lilli Piper posted the third-highest single-season slugging percentage (.876) in Big Ten history, and Nebraska’s Kaylan Jablonski tied for fourth in Big Ten history with six saves, the most since 2011 when Michigan’s Jordan Taylor tied the conference record with eight saves. In addition, the 33 pitching wins by Michigan’s Meghan Beaubien tied for seventh in Big Ten history and were the most by a Big Ten student since 2008 (Northwestern’s Lauren Delaney had 37).

In the single-season team record categories, Northwestern tied for eighth in conference history with 114 stolen bases during the 2018 campaign, while Nebraska was also eighth in the Big Ten record books with eight saves this year. Michigan also put together a 13-game conference winning streak from March 30-April 27, tying the third-longest run in the same season in conference history and the sixth-longest conference win streak overall, while Minnesota’s 12-game Big Ten success string from April 8-29 was the fifth-longest in the same season and seventh-longest overall.

National Award Candidates: Michigan’s Meghan Beaubien was one of three finalists for the Schutt Sports/NFCA National Freshman of the Year Award, while also earning a place among 10 finalists for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Award. Ohio State’s Lilli Piper was named to the Top 25 finalists list for the USA Softball honor, while five other Big Ten students — Michigan’s Faith Canfield, Michigan State’s Lea Foerster, and Minnesota’s Maddie Houlihan, Kendyl Lindaman and Danielle Parlich — made the award’s initial Top 50 Watch List for the 2018 season. For more on both awards, click here and here.

NFCA All-Americans: Five Big Ten softball students from four conference schools earned NFCA All-America honors in 2018. Michigan’s Meghan Beaubien was a first-team selection, while Minnesota’s Kendyl Lindaman, Northwestern’s Rachel Lewis and Ohio State’s Lilli Piper were second-team honorees and Michigan’s Faith Canfield earned third-team accolades. For Canfield, Lindaman and Piper, it was their second career All-America citations, while Beaubien and Lewis, two of the Big Ten’s top freshmen, received their first All-America awards. More information on this year’s Big Ten All-Americans is listed here.

NFCA All-Region Honors: A group of 33 Big Ten softball students representing 10 conference schools earned a place on NFCA all-region teams this season. More than half of that group (17) received first-team all-region citations in 2018. The complete rundown of this year’s Big Ten softball all-region selections can be found by clicking here.

NFCA Great Lakes Region Coaching Staff of the Year: Led by Carol Hutchins, the winningest coach in NCAA softball history with 1,572 victories in 34 seasons, the Michigan coaching staff was recognized as the NFCA Great Lakes Region Coaching Staff of the Year for 2018, sharing the honor with the coaches from Saint Francis (Pa.) University. Hutchins, associate head coach Bonnie Tholl, assistant coach Jennifer Brundage and volunteer assistant Alex Lagesse, helped the Wolverines to a 44-13 record, their 20th Big Ten title and 24th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. It’s the 14th time the Michigan staff has earned this honor (and the fifth time in the past six seasons), with the trio of Hutchins, Tholl and Brundage combining for 13 awards. Additional insights on this award are shown here.

Iowa, Rutgers Hire New Coaches: In June, Iowa and Rutgers announced the hiring of new coaches to lead their programs into the 2018-19 academic year. The Hawkeyes welcomed former UCF and Texas Tech head coach Renee Gillispie to campus, while the Scarlet Knights turned over the reins to former Toledo head coach Kristen Butler. Further details on the newest members of the Big Ten coaching circle can be found here.