As the weather warms and the snow melts, the softball team is back with more energy than ever for their spring season. This energy and excitement stems from their high hopes, improved depth, and anticipation of their annual spring break trip to Florida.
Goal-setting is essential for all sports teams, and softball is no exception. At the beginning of every season, the athletes and coaches gather together to make both individual and team goals. In addition to statistical goals, the women chose a word or phrase they want to embody this season. This year their phrase is “to make history.”
This seems ambitious, but according to Head Coach Jody Gabriel all of the goals they already had put them on the path to make history. Two of their more concrete goals on the way to making history include being in the top four of the conference in order to make the MIAC playoff tournament and winning at least 27 games, which would break the school record.
Last season the team finished eighth in the MIAC, and was ranked ninth coming into the season by the coaches poll. Ranked behind a St. Kate’s team that Mac swept in last season’s doubleheader, the Scots know they are better than this ranking. “We have some fuel in our fire because nobody is expecting anything from us. We’re really excited to prove them wrong,” said Anna Munson ’15.
In addition to setting goals at the beginning of the season, the team meets before every game to set more specific goals to keep their focus.
One reason why the team is so confident in their ability to accomplish their goals this year is the increased roster size from last year. With just two seniors graduated from last year, the return of seven strong senior leaders, and eight freshmen joining the team, they can look forward to having a lot more depth. Another advantage to a larger team is the option to use pinch runners. Pinch runners are players substituted into the game who are usually faster than players already on the bases to try to score more runs.
The freshman class has integrated quickly into the team socially, and will get the chance to see more playing time in Florida over spring break, although many have already contributed both on and off the field.
“They are really supportive and whether they are on or off the field I know they are working hard for us,” Coach Gabriel said.
“We [the seniors] were a larger class and it was nice being able to build our team from our freshman year all the way to our senior year. I can only imagine the program growing even more strong with this freshman class. They’re really athletic and they have a good head for the game,” said Sasa Wilson ’15.
With seven seniors and only three other non-freshmen, it is really important that the team prepares the new players to take over the leadership and positional roles of the seniors. “Now that there are multiple people playing each position, the freshmen are pushing the seniors to be our best and to be consistent while, at the same time, the seniors have really embraced the opportunity to teach the freshmen,” Munson said.
The team trip to Florida will be a great opportunity for the team to prepare for their MIAC games and for players to gain experience. “We’re trying to figure out who fits where as a team, so that when it gets to conference games we don’t have to mess around. We’ll have a really solid lineup, so in that way Florida sets us up to play our best the rest of the season,” Wilson said.
After spending a week in Florida and playing 10 games outside in fairer weather, players are excited to face St. Thomas, who consistently makes the MIAC tournament. “We really just need to remember to play our A-game and not play down to other teams. We’re just as good, if not better, than St. Thomas at some points of the season. It’s really a mental thing for us to compete at our best level at every conference game. It’s challenging but I think we can do it,” Wilson said.
“The difference with this team is in the way they approach things with confidence and knowing that they are prepared, knowing that teams should be gunning for them. It’s about the mental preparation and mental focus because they have the skills they need to be competitive this year,” Coach Gabriel said.
In their first four games, the team has seen a variety of strong performances. Miranda Stokes ’15 and Wilson, who were both named to the 2014 All-MIAC team, are picking up where they left off, with Stokes hitting a startling .571 with three home runs, and Wilson hitting .429. As pitchers, Brittany Ehmann ’15 and Stokes have played key roles in the Scots hot start. Hali Englert ’15 is also expected to be an impact player this year, especially with her versatility between positions. With players at a variety of different positions, Coach Gabriel said that really everyone contributed in these first games.
Starting the season off 4-0, the softball team is excited to play hard and try to make history. “I’m excited for the energy that we have on our team and to see how it plays out in our games. We’ve had such great practices and started off so much faster than other years and I can’t wait to see where that takes us,” Munson said.