Softball season returns! JoAnne Graf Classic Preview

Florida State’s Team 41 is set to begin their quest for another trip to Oklahoma City on Thursday as the fourth-ranked Seminoles host the fifth annual JoAnne Graf Classic. FSU has an impressive 21-2 record in the tournament that is named after their legendary coach JoAnne Graf.

The Florida State University softball team will be playing five games over four days to kick the season off. On Friday at 6 p.m., they open with a contest against Charlotte. On Saturday, the team will play a doubleheader against Texas Tech and Florida A&M, starting at 1 p.m. The tournament will conclude on Sunday at 1:00 p.m. with a rematch against Florida A&M.

Legendary coach Joanne Graf will be throwing out the first pitch before the Charlotte game on behalf of Coach Alameda. Graf coached the Seminoles for 30 seasons and recorded 1,437 victories. She was a six-time ACC Coach of the Year and helped the Noles to seven Women’s College World Series appearances. Graf picked up numerous titles and led the Seminoles to back-to-back AIAW National Championships in 1981 and 1982. Coach Graf retired on June 15, 2008.

Opponent overview: Charlotte

Thursday will mark the first time in over two decades that Florida State and Charlotte will meet on a softball field and the first-ever meeting in Tallahassee. May 4, 1999, was the last time that the Seminoles faced off against the Charlotte Forty Niners. On that day, FSU took on Charlotte in a double header which saw the Noles sweep the Niners with a 12-5 victory in game one and a 10-1 victory in game two.

Charlotte enters the 2024 campaign with sky-high expectations. The Niners are fresh off a 35-23 season which saw them advance to the NCAA Tournament for the first time in program history, earning an at-large bid to play in the Durham Regional. It was a season of many firsts for the Niners, as Charlotte won the Conference USA regular season championship, achieved a national ranking, and knocked off three ranked opponents for the first time. 

Players to watch

The Niners bring back several key bats from the 2023 squad, including fifth-year infielder Cori Hoffler, who collected nine home runs and 23 RBI, and junior Ella Chancey, who started all 58 games and set the school’s single-season record for home runs (11) and RBI (38) as a freshman in 2022. Chancey was named as Softball America’s No. 10 third baseman in the country.

Other names to watch are senior Ashleigh Washington, who has the highest OPS (.974) among returning players, and sophomore catcher Lexi Winters, who started 50 games behind the dish as a rookie. Sophomores Savanna Nguyen and Arianna Rodi will also look to build upon their rookie campaigns. In total, the Niners return six position players who were starters on last year’s NCAA Tournament squad.

Charlotte also welcomes three transfers to their team, headlined by Abigail Knight. A three-year starter at Boston College, Knight hit .294 with a .380 on-base percentage last year for the Eagles. She is joined by Florida transfer Christina Wellen, who brings tremendous speed on the base paths, as well as Leah Powell, who started 11 games last year at South Carolina.

Opponent Overview: Texas Tech

Florida State and Texas Tech will meet for the sixth time on Saturday and the first time since 2010. FSU will have their hands full as Texas Tech leads the series 4-1 with FSU’s lone win coming back in 2000. 

The Red Raiders bring in a ton of power after coming off a record-breaking season last year where they set program records for home runs (74), doubles (93), and slugging percentage (.543).

Player to watch

In her first collegiate season, Kailey Wyckoff took the Big 12 by storm on her way to winning Big 12 Freshman of the Year. She finished the regular season batting .401 with nine home runs, 15 doubles, and 31 RBIs. She vaulted into the Tech record book, ranking top 10 in batting average, slugging percentage, doubles, and total bases for a single season. Wyckoff was also named to the D1 Softball top 100 players list and Softball America’s top 100 players at 88 and 52, respectively.

The Red Raiders also welcome three transfers to their 2024 roster. Maddy Wright, Jenna Lord, and Aubrey Barnhart add experience to an already experienced Tech roster. Lord and Barnhart are both position players and SEC transfers, coming from Ole Miss and Alabama, respectively. Wright returns to the state of Texas for her final collegiate season after spending her first four at Charlotte where she recorded 29 wins and 217 strikeouts from the circle.

Familiar faces

Red Raider Head Coach Craig Snider was an assistant coach at FSU from 2011-19 and helped the Seminoles to a National Championship in 2018. Additionally, Red Raider assistant coach Morgan Klaevemann is a former Seminole who graduated in 2018. Klaevemann was a three-time First Team All-ACC honoree and earned Second Team All-America status in 2018.

Rounding out the host of former Seminoles who are now with the Red Raiders, Bryce Te Kulve is an assistant coach at Texas Tech after spending the last two seasons in Tallahassee as a graduate assistant. Pete Suarez is now the Director of Operations at Texas Tech and is a former manager for Seminole Softball.

Opponent Overview: Florida A&M

Coach Alameda and the Noles have not been too kind to their neighbors having dominated the series with Florida A&M holding a 117-7 record against Rattlers. The Seminoles have won 28 straight games against the Rattlers including a doubleheader sweep last season where FSU defeated the Rattlers by a combined score of 17-1.

Players to watch

The Rattlers are led by catcher Nyah Morgan, who was named to the All-SWAC Second Team in 2023. Morgan led the Rattlers in 2023 with 25 runs batted in and doubles with 14. Morgan had the second-best slugging percentage of .552. Morgan also crossed home plate 23 times, tied with Kiauna Watson for the most amongst returners.

Outfielder Mia Blasingane was also named to the Preseason All-SWAC Second Team. Blasingane had a season batting average of .304 with 31 hits and 19 runs scored. Blasingane also batted in seven runs and recorded 17 steals.

Second baseman Kiauna Watson was also named to the Preseason All-SWAC Second Team, as Watson is the Rattlers returning leader in hits (32), stolen bases (21), and runs scored (23).

Pitcher Lauryn Peppers was also named to the Preseason All-SWAC Second Team after Peppers picked up seven wins and struck out 75 batters in 25 appearances. Peppers also had an opposing batting average of .250.

Wrapping up

2024 is a highly anticipated season for the Seminoles and it all begins with the JoAnn Graf Classic. The Noles will be headed to the Clearwater Invitational to follow, so a hot start to the season will help them build momentum as they have a talented roster, but also some new faces to get acclimated. We wish them luck in the upcoming season as team 41 looks to make a run at claiming another title under Head Coach Lonni Alameda. Thanks for reading and Go Noles!

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