By Josh Springer
Macalester softball has struggled the past several years to get into a competitive position in the MIAC, but the varsity women?TMs program remains enthusiastic and eager to test itself. ?oeWe graduated some good players this past year,?? head coach Tom Cross said. ?oeBut, we are returning a strong nucleus of players with a lot of experience.?? Graduate Kat Sprole ?TM05 was the team?TMs statistical leader in hits, batting average and on base percentage. However, 2006 captains Kate Ayer ?TM06 and Laura Meinke ?TM06 have the familiarity with the game and leadership qualities a team needs from its upper classmen Cross added.The team has a total of 14 athletes dedicated to the program this year. ?oeWe have a real shot to be better this year,?? Ayer said. ?oeIf we play to our potential and finish out close games we will improve dramatically.?? Offense was one aspect of the game the Scots lacked last year as they ended their season outscored by opponents 277-55. To add to the team?TMs frustration they were shut out 20 times in their 38 games. Answering the call for offensive productivity will be one of the primary goals for the season if the team seeks to improve its 2005 record.Katie Grudnowski ?TM08 is viewed by many to be the team?TMs top returner as she led the team with 12 runs and nine stolen bases. Like any team looking to better its previous season after suffering the loss of valuable players, the softball program will rely heavily on the help of incoming first-years. ?oeThe freshmen have the potential to contribute immediately,?? Cross said.Modeling after last year?TMs incoming class, which played an important role for the team, the first-years look to quickly and positively impact the team. Kristen Mainz ?TM07, who will start as pitcher this season, said, ?oethe first years are great hitters, they should quickly contribute to the team.?? First-years Hannah Wydeven ?TM09 and Meredith Wisniewski ?TM09 will support Mainz with pitching, something Cross noted as key. Without the assistance of new players, Mainz would be left alone in covering the demanding position as sole pitcher.Last season, Cross was an assistant coach for the football team. With the hiring of a new football staff which took place in December and the subsequent restructuring of the coaching personnel, Cross is now solely focused and committed on building the softball team through stronger efforts in recruiting as well as raising the level of campus community support for the team. As far as bringing in young talent and increasing participation, Cross has already received five early decision commitments for next year. ?oeTom has always done a great job committing the time and energy to the team,?? Mainz said. Cross said that the program has received outstanding support from the athletic department administration. ?oeIt is an exciting time for Macalester athletics,?? he said in reference to the recent pledges to reconstruct programs such as football and women?TMs basketball. Furthermore, the plans for the new athletic facility are bound to positively impact the sports teams, Cross added.The team heads to Florida this coming week for its spring break trip. The Scots will play a number of competitive squads such as Denison, Hamilton, Messiah, Plattsburgh State and Carthage. ?oeIt will be really nice to play outside,?? Ayer said. ?oeThe weather in Minnesota sometimes makes practice difficult.?? Moreover, playing quality programs outside of the MIAC is crucial for the team?TMs development and hopeful progress in conference play as well. St. Thomas repeated as Division III National Champs last year, the only team to do so since Eastern Connecticut State in 1985 and 1986. Improving from last year?TMs conference record of 1-21 is yet another important objective for the team. While aiming to achieve victories against national champs may be slightly unrealistic, the Scots set their sights on closer competition such as Carleton, Augsburg and St. Catherine?TMs, ?oeWe highly appreciate the support from the campus community and hope to see students come out and watch our games,?? Cross said. ?oeIt?TMs going to be a fun and exciting season.??