The the mass exodus from the Oregon softball program continues as the 2019 season approaches.
Megan Kleist, the reigning Pac-12 pitcher of the year, is the sixth prominent player to seek a transfer since Mike White left for Texas and Melyssa Lombardi was hired as the new head coach.
Kleist, a senior from Appleton, Wis., informed the team of her intentions Thursday, according to a source. The two-time all-American threw two no-hitters last season and finished with a 21-7 record and a 1.32 earned-run average.
“It is with the most heavy heart that I have made the decision to announce my withdrawal from the University of Oregon,” Kleist announced on social media Friday. “I have grown an utmost appreciation for this state, this school, it’s fans, and for all the memories created at Jane Sanders Stadium. While I never thought I would have to make this decision, it is in my best interest to continue my schooling and softball career elsewhere.”
Oregon already lost its other co-ace, Miranda Elish, who has transferred to Texas, along with teammates Shannon Rhodes and Lauren Burke.
Projected starting catcher Mary Iakopo and freshman Alyssa Pinto also have put their names in the NCAA transfer portal since White’s departure following the top-seeded Ducks' flop at the Women’s College World Series in June.
During a recent interview with The Register-Guard, Lombardi said she was “a little” surprised by the amount of attrition during the coaching transition. The NCAA rule change that allows players to contact other schools about transferring without permission from their current institution went into effect Oct. 15.
“I think any time a new coaching staff comes in to a program, there’s going to be change. It’s just a part of it,” said Lombardi, a longtime assistant at Oklahoma. “My job as a coach, I think of much more than getting them prepared for our games. I want to help guide them as young girls and get them to transform into women.
“I think softball is just a short spot in their life, and the things that we do through softball will help prepare them for that next chapter of their life, for that real world, the work world.”
During three seasons in the circle for Oregon, Kleist posted a 59-18 record and a 1.60 ERA with 475 strikeouts and 70 walks allowed.
Elish posted a 37-2 record with a 1.42 earned-run average during the past two seasons. As a sophomore, the former No. 1 overall high school recruit threw a perfect game against Portland State and pitched two games in the Women’s College World Series.
Maggie Balint, who ranked second in the Pac-12 with a 1.22 ERA as a freshman before struggling with back injuries last season, is still on Oregon’s roster. Lombardi added Jordan Dail, a left-handed Virginia Tech transfer who had 116 strikeouts last season as a freshman.
“I’ve enjoyed watching Maggie every single day at practice. Every day she comes ready to compete,” Lombardi said. “Just in the eight games we got to play this fall and seeing her in action on the mound, she’s poised, she’s energetic. You can feel our athletes thriving off of her. I think she’s going to do a great job in the spring for us.”
Rhodes, a dynamic centerfielder from Fort Worth, Texas, hit .347 with 11 home runs and 42 RBIs as a sophomore before returning to the Lone Star State.
Burke, a prep all-American at Marist High, batted .351 with three home runs and 17 RBIs in 36 games as a true freshman with pinch-hit home runs against Albany and Drake during the 2018 NCAA Regional at Jane Sanders Stadium.
“Change is hard and it takes time for change, and I understand that,” Lombardi said. “The athletes that have decided to move on, I wish them the best and want them to be happy with what they do.
“I can’t tell you how excited I am about this team and what we’ve been doing all fall to prepare for the spring. I think our fans are going to be thrilled to see what we’re going to put out there.”
Seniors April Utecht, Alex Mack and Cherish Burks and juniors Mia Camuso and Haley Cruse highlight the remaining lineup, although a source said additional transfers could be coming.
Lombardi, who signed a five-year contract in July worth an average of $345,000 annually, will make her head coaching debut Feb. 8 at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz. Oregon’s first home game is against Oklahoma State on March 8 at Jane Sanders Stadium.
After coaching the Ducks to five Pac-12 championships and five Women’s College World Series appearances over nine seasons, White left for an annual salary of $450,000 at Texas.
Oregon athletic director Rob Mullens and White agreed to a six-year contract worth $1.425 million in guaranteed salary (an average of $237,500 per year) in June 2015 after the coach interviewed with Arkansas and as ground was being broken on the $17.2 million Jane Sanders Stadium project.
According to White, who also earned $90,000 in performance bonuses last season, Oregon wasn’t interested in redoing his deal again.
“They felt like I was being compensated fairly,” White said during an interview with The Register-Guard after accepting the Longhorns’ offer. “Obviously that wasn’t enough. They didn’t step up to the plate, so to speak. I don’t blame them. That could be resources-based.”