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The softball team begins this season looking to formalize its status as an Ivy League dynasty. The team has won the Ivy League championship and advanced to the NCAA tournament in each of the past two seasons and have their sights set on a third as they embark on the 2018 season.

As the season kicks off, the Tigers have good reason to feel confident about their chances. Predicted to win the Ivy League in the conference’s preseason poll, Princeton boasts a talented and experienced roster.

“Our upperclassmen are seasoned veterans and taking a good leadership role,” said head coach Lisa Van Ackeren. “Most of them have been here for two championships, and they know what the expectations are.”

As the Tigers are aware, maintaining a spot atop an always competitive Ivy League is always a challenge. This season, the team faces the sizable task of replacing the two aces of its pitching staff, Claire Klausner ’17 and Erica Nori ’17. The pair combined for over 70 percent of innings pitched last year for the Tigers, and their absence creates a void that this year’s pitching staff will be forced to fill. Senior pitcher Ashley LaGuardia, who started nine games last season, will have to take on a larger role this year, as will sophomore pitcher Caroline Taber and freshman pitcher Allie Reynolds.

“They are confident, and no doubt they want to compete,” said Van Ackeren of her team’s young pitchers. “We’re going to have to function as a staff and rely on each other.”

Offensively, Princeton returns several of its most prolific hitters from last season, including Ivy League Rookie of the Year sophomore infield Allison Harvey, who batted .317 and led the team with 31 RBIs as a freshman. Harvey, along with returners junior catcher Kaylee Grant, junior catcher Keeley Walsh, and sophomore outfield Megan Donahey, will look to help replace the production lost with the graduation of Marissa Reynolds ’17, who batted a remarkable .436 last season.

“We have a good chunk of really consistent hitters,” said Van Ackeren. “We expect them to step into the void Reynolds left behind.”

To win the Ivy League for the third consecutive year and return to the NCAA Tournament, the team will have to navigate a redesigned Ivy League schedule. Unlike in past years, when the Ivy League was split into North and South divisions, this year’s Ivy League championship series will feature the top two teams in the Ivy League standings, rather than the division winners. Princeton will also play every conference opponent three times rather than two.

“It’s a new challenge for our squad,” said Van Ackeren of the league’s restructuring. “They know they’re going to have to work harder.”

The team begins its season this weekend with a trip to the desert to participate in the Grand Canyon tournament. The non-conference schedule also features tournaments in Washington, D.C., and Florida, before the team commences its Ivy League schedule March 24 against Brown.

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