Few programs in the entire country enter the spring with loftier expectations than the Raiders. No, that’s not hyperbole.
Reed lost just one starter from last year’s team that put up grotesque numbers. The 2015 squad finished the season 37-2 while winning its third straight regional title and its first state title since 1998.
The success of a season ago was recognized throughout last spring as the Raiders bounced in and out of national top 25 polls. This year, with so much talent coming back, Reed opens ranked No. 3 in the nation by USA Today and No. 4 by Maxpreps.com.
The preseason accolades, coach Jon Wunder said, are worth saving for the scrapbook, but aren’t something the team can rest on.
“I kind of assumed we’d be in the top 20 just because we return (almost) everybody,” he said. “To get to No. 3 and No. 4, hey everybody likes to see and read it, but we’re not drinking that Kool-Aid … You have to go out there and prove yourself.”
- 2015 record: 37-2, 20-2
- Playoffs: DI North champions, state champions
- Key returners: Julia Jensen, Kenzi Goins, Jessice Sellers, Alysha Imperato, Rheanna Smith, Carla Hernandez, Ryia Grant, Alexis Gonzalez, Mackenzie Howren,
- Key losses: Cassy Walsh
He’s also talked to his team about the challenges that will come with being the hunted, rather than the hunter, as defending state champs.
“With the success and the attention that you get, you got a lot of pressure on yourself because everybody wants to beat you that much more,” he said. “We talked about … how hard it is to win two years in a row and that you’re just going to have to reinvent yourself and work harder.”
Leading the state title defense this spring will be junior pitcher Julia Jensen. Jensen was named an All American by numerous outlets following her sophomore season and was voted the DI North’s Most Valuable Player.
Jensen, who’s verbally committed to Nevada, didn’t only do her damage in the circle. She hit .477 (No. 2 on the team) while leading the team in RBIs (43) and doubles (13). She also blasted seven home runs, the second highest total on the team behind Alysha Imperato’s 10.
In the circle, Jensen was 34-2 with 10 complete game shutouts (three which were no hitters) and a 0.80 ERA. Her strikeout-to-walk ratio was asinine. Compared to just the 31 free passes she handed out in 211 innings of work, she struck out 346 of the 821 batters she faced (42 percent).
Jensen’s dominance is just one example of numerous returning Raiders who put up video-game-like statistics last year.
Junior Jessica Sellers, who is also verbally committed to Nevada, hit .504 while striking out just eight times in 139 plate appearances. She was named the DI North’s Co-Offensive Player of the Year one season after winning the award outright. Senior shortstop Kenzi Goins who yes, is also committed to Nevada, hit .403 and scored 53 runs while driving in 36 and led the team in stolen bases (16-of-17).
As a team, Reed outscored its opponents 361-55.
Those numbers are going to be hard to replicate, and Wunder knows that. He also knows the team’s biggest goal doesn’t involve statistics.
“Last year was about as nearly perfect as you can get. We had some outrageous numbers,” Wunder said. “If we don’t experience that same success from a statistical standpoint, that’s OK. Our ultimate goal is to win regionals and get an opportunity to go back to state and see if we can’t win it again.”
The one starter who is not returning this season is centerfielder Cassy Walsh. Walsh was a second-team DI North selection after hitting .439 in the No. 9 spot.
Reed’s program has become so strong, however, that talent is seemingly always ready to replace talent. Senior Ryia Grant will take over in center. Coming off the bench last year, she hit .452 in 29 games. She was also 5-of-6 swooping bases.
“I think we plugged in one of the top three athletes on our team into that position in Ryia Grant,” Wunder said. “She’s going to fill that spot defensively no problem. Defensively, we’re stacked again.”
And again, Reed planned to open its season in Sacramento at the Victory Preseason Tournament—a tournament Reed won for the first time last spring.
The Raiders were scheduled to against Woodcreek (a Sacramento suburb) on Thursday but the tournament was postponed to April 14-16 due to rain in the forecast.
The outcome of that game, and that tournament, will have little say in determining the success of the 2016 squad. The same cannot be said of the final tournament, or two, Reed will play in.
Said Wunder: “Absolutely it would be a disappointment to us if we don’t win regionals and win state. Because, that’s what we’re focused on.”
Because this weekend’s tournament was postponed, Reed will instead open its season next Thursday at Bishop Manogue. First pitch is at 3:45 p.m.