Princeton softball holds lofty expectations for its upcoming season. Despite last year’s Ivy League championship and advancement into the NCAA tournament, the team has its sights set even higher this year. “Going on to the NCAA (tournament) is special,” said head coach Lisa Van Ackeren, “but once they have it, they want more of it.”
The 2016 season ended in bittersweet fashion for the team. It travelled to Cambridge and defeated Harvard in a fiercely competitive three-game series to earn the Ivy League crown, its first since 2008.
In the NCAA tournament, however, the team failed to notch a win, losing first to No. 7 ranked James Madison and then to Longwood in a tight 2-1 game. While winning the Ivy League was an undeniably significant landmark for the program, this year’s team would like to build on its success and go even further. Specifically, defending the Ivy League title and earning a win in the NCAA Tournament are goals that the team believe to be within its grasp. “We’d like to compete a little bit better than we did [last year],” said Van Ackeren.
On paper, the squad appears well-positioned to replicate its success. While the team will be without the leadership of last year’s captains Shanna Christian ‘16 and Kayla Bose ‘16 and has also lost Skye Jerpbak ‘16, one of the most potent batters on last year’s team, it will nevertheless benefit from many capable returners. Van Ackeren said that this year’s senior captains, Claire Klausner and Marissa Reynolds, have already begun to “provide stability and leadership” to this year’s team. Furthermore, she described this year’s crop of freshman as “incredibly competitive,” bringing a spirit that has helped to set a tone of effort and intensity.
Offensively, the team boasts a balanced attack that will undoubtedly put up runs in bunches over the course of the season. Van Ackeren believes the versatility of her team’s offense will give trouble to any opposing pitcher. “We can exploit people with ‘small ball,’ we can hit home runs if we need to, we have consistent contact hitters,” said Van Ackeren.
The offensive charge will be led by talented and experienced returners. Perhaps most notable is sophomore infielder Kaylee Grant, who, as a freshman, led last year’s team in home runs, RBIs, and batting average. Outfielder Kaitlyn Waslawski, who led last year’s team with 23 stolen bases, also returns as a sophomore and will give nightmares to opposing defenses with her dangerous speed on the base paths. The team also returns junior middle infielder Danielle Dockx, who started every game but one last year, and junior outfielder Kylee Pierce, who posted a .325 batting average last year and will likely have an expanded role on this year’s team.
Additionally, the team’s pitching staff is well-situated, as it returns most of its key pitchers. While the anchor of last year’s pitching staff, Shanna Christian, has graduated, 68 percent of innings last season were pitched by members of this year’s team. Junior Ashley LaGuardia, who posted a 3.77 ERA over 85 innings, and senior Claire Klausner, who posted a 4.25 ERA over 89 innings, will likely be called upon to shoulder much of the pitching load. Sophomore Riley Wilkinson, who recorded a 3.16 ERA and led the team of saves over 44 innings, will also be crucial to the pitching effort.
The team will kickoff its season on March 3 with a tournament in Texas. The Tigers will begin playing the all-important Ivy League games on March 31. Unique to baseball and softball, the Ivy League is divided into two divisions: North and South. The winners of each meeting to play a three-game series to decide the Ivy League championship. Princeton, along with Penn, Columbia, and Cornell, belongs to the South division. In particular, Penn has emerged as the chief rival for supremacy of the South, and so Princeton’s four-game road series against them will be all the more significant.
Princeton softball has set ambitious goals for its upcoming season and has the talent and confidence to match. “You can tell when you come back for practices what the tone of the season is going to be like,” said Van Ackeren. “We’ve walked away from practices feeling great about their effort and competitiveness.”