Defense was a problem for the Tigers in 2016. LSU ranked second to last in the conference in errors with 84, averaging 1.2 per game. Even without the errors, the Tigers still ranked second from the bottom among SEC teams in team fielding percentage.
If there is good news heading into this season it’s that 31 of those errors (the combined totals of Bianka Bell and Sandra Simmons) have graduated. Additionally, Beth Torina has praised some of the incoming freshmen for their defensive skills, so the weakness could be a strength.
Like the lineup, Torina will have some options when it comes to best aligning her defenders.
C: Sahvanna Jaquish
Alternatives: Sydney Loupe, Michal Cunningham.
Although Jaquish began 2016 as the starting 3rd baseman she took over behind the plate (and at times first) when Bianka Bell moved from short to third, allowing Amber Serrett to play at short. There are a couple of reasons for believing Jaquish will be the starting catcher, which does not include Jaquish being listed as a catcher on the All-SEC team. Loupe has played in just two games in her Tiger career and Cunningham is an unproven freshman. Additionally, last year Torina put a younger player in the field, Serrett, and made the veterans, Bell and Jaquish, adjust. This suggests that one of the incoming freshman, or a player with lesser experience, with third base ability would get the start there and Jaquish would move behind the plate.
1B: Amanda Doyle
Alternatives: Sydney Springfield, Taylor Satchel.
Technically, the only player on the roster listed as a first baseman is Sydney Smith. However, Torina has referenced Springfield being primarily a first baseman and will probably want to give the freshman regular playing time. At Softball Media Day on Monday Torina also said that Doyle had been splitting reps at first base.
2B: Connie Quinn
Alternatives: Nicky Dawson, Randi Provost, Shemiah Sanchez.
Quinn is probably the starter opening night, although her job might not be safe. She has always been one of LSU’s bigger error offenders, logging 36 (20 last year) in two seasons. At Media Day, Torina revealed Dawson was getting a shot at 2nd base. Quinn's competition last year, Shemiah Sanchez, could also be an option at second. Given Quinn’s defensive struggles and the hype surrounding Dawson, there could some changes at second sooner than anticipated.
SS: Amber Serrett
Alternatives: Nicky Dawson, Michal Cunningham, Shemiah Sanchez.
Even prior to the start of last season, Torina projected Serrett as the future LSU shortstop. That future came sooner than expected with Serrett locking down the position just a month into her college career. Assuming there isn't a drastic sophomore slump, Serrett will hold this for the rest of the season. Dawson is currently listed as "Utility" but played shortstop in high school and the reports about her athleticism make it feasible that she could play short if needed.
3B: Shemiah Sanchez
Alternatives: Amanda Doyle, Sahvanna Jaquish, Taylor Satchell, Randi Provost.
Monday, Torina said Sanchez has been working at third and it appears the sophomore is poised to take over at the hot corner. Doyle was recruited to play third will be considered here as well. It wouldn't be surprising to see Jaquish here if Doyle or Sanchez struggle and Torina is confident with the options at catcher. This could also be a spot for Satchell or Provost.
LF: Nicky Dawson
Alternatives: Aliyah Andrews, Elyse Thornhill, Claire Weinberger.
This seems to be a tie between Andrews and Dawson. If Dawson takes over at second, Andrews would probably go to left. The odds seem to be against the incumbent in Thornhill, as both Andrews or Dawson seem to be favorites for one of the outfield openings that Thornhill held at the end of last year.
CF: Emily Griggs
Alternatives: Nicky Dawson, Aliyah Andrews.
Griggs held down the centerfield in 2016 and was one of LSU’s best defenders. Dawson and Andrews again make an appearance here based on the reports regarding their speed and range. Even if Griggs doesn't hold down centerfield, she would still probably retain one of the other outfield spots.
RF: Bailey Landry
Alternatives: Emily Griggs, Nicky Dawson, Aliyah Andrews, Elyse Thornhill.
Similar to Griggs, Landry was a main stay in right field as she has been the last two seasons. Landry could be moved (possibly to left) but will still be patrolling the grass of Tiger Park in some capacity. It isn’t clear if Thornhill has the range for center but she's probably on the short list of players who could fill in right field if called upon.
Based on what Torina has said about the incoming players and with some of the lesser defenders now being off the team, there is reason to be optimistic about the LSU defense in 2017. Keep in mind some of this new athleticism is still inexperienced and with some of the younger players undergoing position changes, the defense might take some time to come into form.
One thing to look for throughout the season is how much leeway Torina affords the newcomers in terms of trading offense for defense. Last year, Torina had her hands full because Bell, Simmons and, presumably, Quinn were some of the best hitters on the team which made up for their defensive issues. Serrett and Thornhill were good defensively, so Torina never had this problem, but this year with more freshman and unproven players poised to see significant playing time, the problem could arise once again.
When looking at the defensive alignment, and the offense from the last post, it starts to become more apparent what the Tiger lineup will look like early in the season. Ultimately, the Tigers will not be short of talent, on offense or defense, but the execution of that talent will only be known once the games begin.