The softball team is back and better than ever, getting ready to open season play this weekend. After losing only two seniors to graduation last year, the Tigers have a lot to look forward to, with a strong freshman class and a reimagined approach to the game. The Tigers finished the 2014 season with a record of 17-26 overall and 9-11 in the Ivy League, good for a second-place tie with Columbia in the Ivy South Division.
This season will start a week earlier than in years past, and the Tigers have been preparing themselves for the new season differently than before. “The team did stuff differently in the offseason, which made practices really productive in February because [the players] really took it a step further this season, ” said head coach Lisa Van Ackeren, referencing how the Tigers started training on their own time during winter break.
The Tigers return two of the three players who earned All-Ivy honors, sophomore infielder Haley Hineman and junior pitcher Shanna Christian. Hineman finished the season leading the team with the highest batting average, .307. Hineman also had 39 hits and seven doubles on the season, managing multiple hits in 10 games. Christian was the team’s first starter last year and led the Tigers with 103 1/3 innings played and 68 strikeouts. Christian had an earned run average of 3.00 in 2013 and 4.13 in 2014, but regrettably is still recovering from an injury from which she will likely return in time for Ivy League play.
“We have a lot of injuries, but we’re definitely feeling more comfortable and upfront about our weaknesses in practice,” Hineman said. “We’ve been addressing weakness so that [our] strengths have been really showing up more in our intersquad scrimmages … We’re definitely more prepared, and we’re redefining ourselves here.”
“We’ve had a tough time with injuries,” Van Ackeren said, who said Christian should be ready by the Ivy season. Van Ackeren added that sophomore pitcher Erica Nori is also injured. “Our biggest key will be keeping people healthy and on the field, making sure our pitching staff is ready to go.”
Nori had an incredible freshman season, leading the team with an ERA of 2.29, the fourth-best in the Ivy league last season. Nori pitched 97.2 innings with 53 strikeouts. Classmate and fellow pitcher Claire Klausner will also return this season with 39.1 innings and 22 strikeouts under her belt. Rounding out the pitching staff is freshman Ashley LaGuardia, who in high school was a New Jersey first-team all-state selection among private school players and a third-team all-state pick overall, and will likely make an impact on the team right off the bat.
“We have three freshmen; a pitcher, an outfielder and an infielder, and all three are naturally competitive. For them, they’ll definitely see time with their approaches from the competitive standpoint. [LaGuardia] will definitely see some mound time and [freshman shortstop/second baseman Danielle Dockx] will be able to make an impact on shortstop. She has great leadership skills, and I think she’ll step into that role quickly,” Van Ackeren said, adding that “[freshman outfielder Kylee Pierce] will definitely compete for time in the outfield right away.”
Hineman agreed, saying that the newest additions to the Tigers are “already showing a mature presence on the field.”
Turning to the batting lineup, last season junior catcher Skye Jerpbak had the most home runs of any returning player (3), starting 31 of the 33 games she played last season. Hineman and senior infielder/outfielder Rachel Rendina played in team-high 42 games last season. Rendina plays mostly in outfield and led the team with 130 at-bats and 19 runs scored last season. Rendina also had the second-most hits on the team (34) last year, with six multi-hit games and three three-hit games, Rendina batted .350 with 50 hits in 2013 but only .262 in 2014, so she will definitely be a player to watch in the coming season. Junior first baseman Emily Viggers is also a force to be reckoned with, and started in 29 of the 30 games she played in last season, batting .250 in stark contrast to the .327 batting average she maintained in 2013 in addition to two homeruns and 14 runs batted in.
The Tigers will open their season this weekend at a tournament in Florida, which, due to a particularly cold winter, will be the first time the Tigers have played outside this season. “It’s been a tough winter, and that means that we haven’t had a lot of opportunities to practice outside. Friday will be the first day on the dirt, and I ultimately think the team is ready to compete in the conditions that we have or have not prepped for,” said Van Ackeren.
“Our greatest strength is that we’re tougher than we have ever been. Our team is prepared for whatever comes our way. If we fail, our team is resilient and will be ready to come back stronger the next time,” said Van Ackeren.