The Washburn softball team will head to The Sunshine State this weekend, traveling to West Palm Beach, Florida, where they open season play at the Sailfish Showdown hosted by Palm Beach Atlantic with five games over three days.
The Ichabods will open play Friday, Feb. 12 against Barry University at noon, followed by Florida Tech at 2 p.m. and will look to take an all-time series lead.
On Saturday, Feb. 13, WU will face host Palm Beach Atlantic University at 2 p.m. before Nova Southeastern University at 4 p.m.
On Sunday the Ichabods will face head coach Vanessa Becerra’s former school and team Lynn University at noon. Becerra will be in her fifth season as head coach entering with an overall record of 79-104.
Defense is one main point of emphasis for the softball team going into this season. As Becerra said, “We had too many defensive errors last year.” She also reflected on her own personal philosophy and said, “I’ve always been so offensively minded, but this year I want to take more pride in our defense.”
Last year the Ichabods were 14-10 when scoring in the first inning and 19-10 when they scored first. It’s holding those early leads and being able to play strong defense that Becerra believes will lead to more victories this year for the Ichabods softball team.
“If we can get out there and score first, and win every inning, we’re bound to win more ball games,” Becerra said. “If you can get and keep that momentum on your side, it’s really going to help.”
“Our hitting will come, but defense is big,” said senior Haylee Marsteller.
Looking to take the circle this year is lefty freshman Ashley Wills. The team believes Wills can fill a big void after losing ace Lauren Thimmesch.
“I think its actually going to work to our advantage,” said junior Megan Stedman of Wills.
Becerra has also implemented a more “small-ball ” approach this year, rather than swinging for the fences to try and hit the long ball. Senior Marina Quimby explained how bunting and speed are big improvements for them this season.
“We have multiple people who can steal bases and bunt now,” Quimby said. “We have more lefty slappers.”
Slap hitters hit from the left side and run toward the pitch as it comes toward the plate making contact. By putting the ball in play, they put pressure on the defense to make quick forceful plays.
“We’ve gained a lot of speed this year with our freshmen,” Becerra said. “This year were really going to focus on using all of our assets to the fullest.”
Offensively speaking, the Ichabods led in every statistical category per average last year, compared to their opponents average, and finished fourth in total batting average in the region.
The Bods are returning four of the top six hitters from last year’s 27-24 squad as well as five all-MIAA players that features senior first baseman Marina Quimby, who finished fourth in the MIAA with a batting average of .394 with 69 hits and 43 runs scored.
Also returning to the team is sophomore shortstop Cassidy Merriman, who batted .341 with 56 hits (12 doubles) adding a team high 48 runs.
Others who look to contribute offensively are honorable mention all-MIAA honors junior outfielder Megan Stegman who hit a .319, seeding 44 hits and scoring 22 runs, and senior centerfielder Marsteller, who is looking to have a stellar senior season for the Ichabods.
“I have been working really hard and want to be an important factor,” Marsteller said of her role in the offense this year.
Taylor Zimmerman, the Ichabods final returning all-MIAA selection from last season at second base, was one of four players to start all 51 games last year. She batted .253 with 37 hits and a team high 13 doubles finishing second on the team with 39 RBI.
“Unleash the Beast,” is a new motto this year for the 2016 squad as they are just looking to show a new side of their game, including the hard work put in this off-season.
This year’s team was picked to finish seventh in the MIAA preseason coaches’ poll. However, the team is ready and poised to make another run at the MIAA conference tournament for back-to-back seasons and the third time in the last six seasons, as well as the quest to win the MIAA for the first time since 2002.
As far as what Becerra expects from this year’s team: “I know they’ve done the work; I know they’re good enough. They’ve just got to go out and perform”.