After finishing the 2021 season with a narrowly-winning record at 26-25, the NC State softball team underwent many changes as head coach Jennifer Patrick-Swift oversaw an overhaul of the program heading into her fourth year at the helm.
The Pack lost a lot of talent due to transfers in both hitting and pitching. Right-handed pitcher Sydney Nester led the team in strikeouts in 2021, but she is at Marshall for her final two years of eligibility. Nester is one of the big pitchers in the history of Wolfpack softball, sitting in the top 10 in program history in several statistical categories including strikeouts per seven innings, wins, strikeouts, batting average against and ERA.
Another big arm left the NC State pitcher’s circle this summer, but this instance involves a left-hander as Estelle Czech headed west to the Texas Longhorns. The only southpaw on the Pack pitching staff in 2021, Czech posted the lowest ERA and WHIP among State pitchers with at least 10 IP that season as a true freshman.
The Wolfpack did add a pair of players as well to fill up that pitching rotation. Graduate transfer left-handed pitcher Maddie McPherson joins the Pack for the 2022 season by way of Georgia Tech. McPherson possesses both academic and athletic talent, as she was named to the ACC Academic Honor Roll in each of the past two seasons, and a fastball in the upper 60s will help her contribute on the field for the Pack.
"We're really excited about adding someone with Madison's ability and will to win to our roster," said Patrick-Swift in a statement. "This was our second time recruiting Madison, and we are so glad we will get to see her in a Wolfpack uniform. She is a hard-throwing lefty that brings the ability to throw three speeds, and having that ability to hit 67-69 mph from the left side is going to be a game changer for us."
Patrick-Swift also secured right-hander Aisha Weixlmann from Winthrop to round out the pitching core. Weixlmann exhibited efficiency last season for the Eagles, posting a 3.0 strikeout-to-walk ratio across 102.1 IP and earning MVP honors at the 2021 Big South Softball Championship. Weixlmann will have to prove she can deliver in the ACC though, as she only has one game against an ACC opponent in her career, giving up four earned runs in three innings against Clemson in April 2021.
These two pitchers will work with a new member of the coaching staff, as Ketarah DeVries comes in as the Pack’s new pitching coach. DeVries previously worked with Patrick-Swift at Saint Francis University before finding success at Seton Hall and Bucknell. The Pack’s new pitching coach will try to take State’s pitching to the next level after a mediocre 2021 that saw it finish in the middle of the pack in several statistical pitching categories.
A few hitters also transferred away from NC State, but the biggest loss for the Pack was outfielder Sam Russ’ departure to Clemson. The Wolfpack’s all-time leader in stolen bases swiped 32 bags last season, more than a third of the Pack’s total stolen base production in 2021. Russ was a formidable force for the Pack with the bat in her hands as well, placing fourth-best on the team in home runs, slugging percentage and OPS last year.
A pair of utility players transferred away from NC State as well. Grace Johnson and April Visser took their talents to UNC-Charlotte and UNLV, respectively. Johnson only took one at-bat in her time with the Wolfpack, but Visser’s defensive presence will be missed. In three years at State, Visser only slashed .182/.301/.364, but her .935 career fielding percentage helped solidify the middle of the Pack infield.
Two hitters are transferring in to try and replace the production lost by Russ and company. Graduate outfielder Brittany Jackson comes from the Kansas program primed to fill in the hole in center field left by center fielder Angie Rizzi, who graduated last spring. Jackson holds a career batting average of .315, so she has the bat as well as the glove to contribute right away.
"Brittany is coming in having been an everyday player in her Big 12 career while also coming off an NFCA All-Region season,” said Patrick-Swift in a statement. “Our center field position has been played at an extremely high defensive level for us the last few seasons, and Brittany will be able to continue that for us."
Another bat that can immediately make a difference is that of graduate catcher and utility player Taylor Johnson. The transfer out of Wisconsin brings raw power to a Woflpack lineup already teeming with powerful bats with the likes of shortstop Randi Farricker, who tied for the ACC lead in home runs last season. With Patrick-Swift preaching the home run mindset in her program, Johnson will provide even more umph to the NC State offense.
"Taylor's stats speak for themselves," said Patrick-Swift in a statement. "But our staff was blown away with the person she is and the teammate she is going to be. She will fit right in with our offensive philosophy, and she wants to be an integral part in helping us take the next step as a program."
Softball season will be here once again before too long, and when it does get here, the Wolfpack will be raring to roll its new names and faces out onto the field.