"We're pretty far along," head coach Eric Oakley said of his teams readiness for the spring season. "If we had to play this weekend, we could do it. For the next two weeks, it's going to be about making sure that the batters get some at-bats off live pitching."
As far as returners go, UND will be set with a solid senior class made up of Caralyn Chewning, Elizabeth Cudney, Courtney Gonzales, D Jantzer, Amanda Johnson and Toni Schutte.
Chewning returns as the starting ace and one of the top hitters for UND. When she's not pitching, Chewning will see time as the designated player. When Chewning is pitching, Oakley expects to see sophomore Taylor Hansen make a rotation in as the designated player.
The entire outfield returns for UND, with Jantzer at left, Johnson at right and sophomore Nicole Babrowski at center. Jantzer led the team last season with a .308 batting average, 33 hits and 19 RBI.
After battling through injuries earlier in her career, Schutte is an early front runner for second base. Fellow seniors Gonzales and Cudney will also be called upon throughout the season.
Oakley expects Cudney to do her fair share of catching behind the plate, along with newcomer Kim Granata, who transferred in from Kent State. Gonzales should see time as a pinch hitter, being called upon in times of need.
"Gonzales will end up being a solid pinch hitter and help us in situations where we need to score," Oakley said. "When we'll need someone to come in and put the ball into play, she'll be able to do that for us."
The rest of the lineup should be set for the spring with sophomore Emily Bell returning to first, and freshmen Jackie Lilek and Autumn Cervantez starting at third and short stop, respectively.
With the lineup pretty much all but ready to go, the focus for Oakley and his staff turns to the batting and pitching.
"I'm interested in seeing how the hitters do," Oakley commented. "They look good in the cages right now, but you really can't be absolutely sure until they face some live pitches."
"We also have three freshman pitchers, so getting them to a point where they have an idea of the competition level that they're going to face is crucial too."
UND brings in pittchers in Kaylin VanDomelen, Sophie Pratt and Megan Hedstrom. But the return of Chewning at full health this season, as she played most of last season coming off an injury, will be a big boost for UND.
"I know Chewning will do well this year; she's a veteran and she'll have a good presence in the circle," Oakley said.
"I think we're going to score runs, it's just going to be a matter of getting our freshmen pitchers some experience and up to speed before conference play."
While the UND squad was picked last in the preseason Big Sky coaches' poll, Idaho State was tabbed to finish last in 2013, but the Bengals ended up finishing first. Oakley thinks this year's team has the ability to make the Big Sky tournament at the end of the year and turn some heads.
"I know we'll be a team that makes other teams stop and think 'okay, we have to watch out for this team.'"
North Dakota plays its first games of the season at the Florida Gulf Coast Tournament, Feb. 21-23, in Fort Myers, Fla.