BROOKINGS, S.D. (SUMMIT) – The Summit League announced the 2023 All-Summit League Softball Teams and individual awards, with Summit League regular season champion South Dakota State collecting two out of the five individual accolades through a vote of the league’s eight head coaches.
South Dakota senior infielder Aleesia Sainz was selected as the Player of the Year, while junior pitcher Tori Kniesche of South Dakota State was selected as the Pitcher of the Year for the second time in her career. North Dakota senior catcher Cassie Castaneda received the Defensive Player of the Year award with first-year head coach Kristina McSweeney earning the Coach of the Year. Rounding out the individual accolades is St. Thomas’ Avery Wukawitz, who was named the Freshman of the Year.
Sainz was a huge centerpiece in the Coyote lineup, starting all 48 games she played in, including all 20 league contests. In league play, she ranked second with a .420 batting average and second with 21 RBI. The Casa Grande, Ariz., native belted a pair of home runs and ranks first in on-base percentage (.536), OPS (1.236) and total bases (45) along with second in walks (13) and third in slugging percentage (.700). Overall, Sainz has reached base in 24 of her last 26 games played and for the season, she leads USD in RBIs (35), slugging percentage (.519), on-base percentage (.430), walks (27) and is tied for the team lead in home runs (6) and second in runs scored (25).
Castaneda earned the Defensive Player of the Year honor as the catcher has caught a league-high 20 runners stealing, which currently ranks second nationally. She has compiled a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage in league games this season and is one of six players with a perfect fielding percentage in league contests.
For the second time in her career and the first time since 2021, South Dakota State junior Tori Kniesche was named the Pitcher of the Year after leading her squad to an 11-0 mark in the circle in league competition, the lone pitcher to have an undefeated record. In 76.2 innings of work, Kniesche gave up no earned runs and struck out 124 batters, the second most in league action. Her 0.00 ERA led hurlers in league competition and she compiled nine complete-game performances with eight shutouts. The right-handed hurler was named D1Softball’s Pitcher of the Week on April 10 as she threw 27.2 innings, allowing eight hits and no earned runs while striking out 43, including an 18-strikeout performance against Omaha.
Kniesche held opponents to a league-low .109 batting average and capped off her regular season with the first perfect game in program history as she struck out 12 of the 15 batters she faced in a five-inning run rule victory. The Wayne, Neb., native improved to 21-4 overall and improved her overall ERA to 1.43. Furthermore, Kniesche extended her streak of innings without giving up an earned run to 84.1 innings.
Wukawitz was named the Freshman of the Year and became the second straight Tommie to receive the accolade after recording the fifth-highest batting average in league games at .387 and registered the second-most hits at 24 in 20 league games. Overall, Wukawtiz is tied for league lead with teammate Brooke Ellestad with 58 hits and is in the top five in league games in total bases (45, 1st), runs (18, tied for 1st), triples (3, tied for 1st), slugging percentage (.726, 2nd), home runs (3, tied for 3rd), walks (11, tied for 4th) and on-base percentage (.486).
South Dakota State head coach Kristina McSweeney earned the Summit League Coach of the Year honor in her first team with the Jackrabbits. McSweeney led her squad to its third consecutive Summit League regular season title and completed the seventh undefeated season (17-0) in Summit League history while accomplishing the feat for the first time as a program. The last League team to do so was North Dakota State in 2016 as the Bison went 17-0 that year. The Jackrabbits have won 11 consecutive games and on March 15, they earned their first victory over a nationally ranked opponent in program history as the Jackrabbits claimed a 5-2 win against No. 20 Baylor.
Sainz, Castaneda, Kniesche and Wukawitz were named first-team All-Summit League performers and were joined on the 14-member squad by South Dakota State’s Rozelyn Carrillo, Mia Jarecki and Jocelyn Carrillo; Omaha’s Kamryn Meyer and Lynsey Tucker; North Dakota State’s Carley Goetschius and Emilee Buringa; South Dakota’s Clara Edwards and Courtney Wilson; Kansas City’s Ally Vonfeldt.
The 14-member Second Team All-Summit League Softball squad is comprised of North Dakota State’s Lainey Lyle, Paige Vargas, Bella Dean and Anjolee Aguilar-Beaucage; North Dakota’s Katie Joten and Madi Moore; Omaha’s Sydney Nusimer, Sydney Ross and Rachel Weber; South Dakota’s Delaney White and Gabby Moser; St. Thomas’ Brooke Ellestad; South Dakota State’s Emma Osmundson; Western Illinois’ Bella Alvarez.
Honorable mention accolades went to South Dakota State’s Shannon Lasey, Lindsey Culver, Alex Williams and Allison Yoder; Western Illinois’ Emily Price, Maria Luna and Savannah Rodriguez; Omaha’s Maggie O’Brien and Ava Rongisch; South Dakota’s Bela Goerke and Jordyn Pender; Kansas City’s Sydney Nichols; North Dakota’s Madison Pederson; North Dakota State’s Chloe Woldruff.
Six of the league’s eight teams will embark in Brookings Wednesday-Saturday for The Summit League Softball Championships. The action starts Wednesday at 2 p.m. CT when fourth-seeded South Dakota takes on No. 5 North Dakota followed by No. 3 North Dakota State against No. 6 Kansas City at Jackrabbit Softball Stadium. All games will be streamed at thesummitleague.org/watch, televised by Midco Sports and streamed digitally on the Midco Sports Plus app.
2023 All-Summit League Softball Teams and Individual Awards
(as selected by The Summit League head coaches)
Player of the Year: Aleesia Sainz, South Dakota
Pitcher of the Year: Tori Kniesche, South Dakota State
Defensive Player of the Year: Cassie Castaneda, North Dakota
Freshman of the Year: Avery Wukawitz, St. Thomas
Coach of the Year: Kristina McSweeney, South Dakota State
P – Clara Edwards, South Dakota
P – Tori Kniesche, South Dakota State
P – Kamryn Meyer, Omaha
C – Cassie Castaneda, North Dakota
INF – Rozelyn Carrillo, South Dakota State
INF – Carley Goetschius, North Dakota State
INF – Mia Jarecki, South Dakota State
INF – Aleesia Sainz, South Dakota
INF – Lynsey Tucker, Omaha
OF – Emilee Buringa, North Dakota State
OF – Jocelyn Carrillo, South Dakota State
OF – Courtney Wilson, South Dakota
OF – Avery Wukawitz, St. Thomas
DP/UTL – Ally Vonfeldt, Kansas City
P – Lainey Lyle, North Dakota State
P – Sydney Nuismer, Omaha
P – Paige Vargas, North Dakota State
C – Sydney Ross, Omaha
INF – Bella Alvarez, Western Illinois
INF – Bella Dean, North Dakota State
INF – Brooke Ellestad, St. Thomas
INF – Katie Joten, North Dakota
INF – Delaney White, South Dakota
OF – Madi Moore, North Dakota
OF – Gabby Moser, South Dakota
OF – Emma Osmundson, South Dakota State
OF – Rachel Weber, Omaha
DP/UTL – Anjolee Aguilar-Beaucage, North Dakota State
P – Shannon Lasey, South Dakota State
P – Emily Price, Western Illinois
C – Bela Goerke, South Dakota
C – Allison Yoder, South Dakota State
INF – Maria Luna, Western Illinois
INF – Sydney Nichols, Kansas City
INF – Maggie O’Brien, Omaha
INF – Madison Pederson, North Dakota
OF – Lindsey Culver, South Dakota State
OF – Ava Rongisch, Omaha
OF – Chloe Woldruff, North Dakota State
DP/UTL – Jordyn Pender, South Dakota
DP/UTL – Savannah Rodriguez, Western Illinois
DP/UTL – Alexa Williams, South Dakota State