Young softball sets off to shaky start in Arizona

By Audrey Henkels

As softball’s season began in the Arizona desert over vacation, they had to figure out how to adjust to a new group of younger players.

The team, whose record on the spring break trip was 4–6, got off to a rocky start but improved throughout the week, winning both games on Tuesday and their last game on Thursday.

Yet their two most exciting games were actually ones that they lost: 6–5 and 5–1 decisions against evenly matched Gustavus Adolphus. The two games were the only two complete outings that the squad played during the entire week; in softball, if one team is ahead eight or more runs at the end of the fifth inning, the game ends.

A plane delay early in the trip contributed to the team’s rocky start.

“Basically by the time we got into bed [the first night], it was 2:30 [a.m.], and we had to get up at 7:00 a.m.” said second-year pitcher Lauren White, who felt that were it not for this “outstanding circumstance,” the team could have beaten Schreiner in their first game.

Sleep deprivation also might have contributed to their 10–0 loss to Luther on the same day.

Sunday was a better day for the team, as they beat Schreiner 13–2, although they lost to Simon Fraser 19–1. The following day was mixed as well, as the squad opened with a 0–8 loss to Luther but kept it close in the first match up with Gustavus.

Tuesday proved to be the highlight of the trip; in somewhat of a turnabout, the team crushed St. Joseph 17–1 and beat McPherson 8–0. On Thursday, they suffered their second loss against Gustavus, but came back to win their final game of the tour 13–5 over Taylor.

Despite these early mixed results for a team that exited last season during the first round of the NCAA tournament, the squad feels it gained from the trip.

“Although our record may be lower [4–6 as opposed to last year’s 8–2], we are better prepared this year than last year coming off our spring break trip,” White explained. “We saw a much higher level of competition in Arizona than we did in Florida last year.”

“Overall, I think we learned a lot about ourselves on the trip: things we are good at, how we react as a team, and things we need to work on,” head coach Ruth Kmak said. “We need to improve our walk–strikeout ratio both offensively and defensively. We also need to tighten up our defense.”

Despite the importance of outstanding individuals—such as second-year Kathleen Duffy, who was named UAA Athlete of the Week for her nine runs on the trip—Kmak emphasized that the team’s success lies in their collaboration as a team.

“We need to continue to have good balance [in our offensive attack] in order to be successful. [Third-year] Jennifer Jacobson, [fourth-year] Vanessa Pineros, [first-years]Sara Whaley, Jennifer Simile, and Lauren White are all hitting right around .300 or better. We are hitting .326 as a team and more importantly, our on-base percentage is almost .400,” Kmak explained.

The team appears to be coping fairly well with its loss of several seniors, including First Team All-Region pitcher Petra Wade.

“This year we have a really young team,” White said.

Because of the number of new players—there are six freshmen on the 16-person team—the trip was especially important as a bonding experience for the players.

Although the team usually takes a big outing on their spring break trip—they headed to Disneyworld last year—the Maroons opted for a cheaper alternative in order to save up for their trip to northern Europe, scheduled for the summer of 2009. This year, the team took in a University of Arizona softball game instead.

Now that the team is back in the Midwest, they look forward to playing regional rivals North Park at home on Saturday and Illinois Wesleyan in Bloomington on Sunday.

“We are excited to head into the regional portion of our schedule and look forward to evening out our record and bettering ourselves from there,” Kmak said.

Winning its first two home games of the season on Thursday, 15–0 and 8–0 against Kalamazoo, the team seems to be off to a great start at fulfilling that goal.