Softball enters season with big goals

By COLLEEN PEGHER

Editor In Chief

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The Allegheny softball team enjoyed a wildly successful season in 2013. After winning the North Coast Athletic Conference Championship last April, the Gators then won three regional matchups in the NCAA Division III Tournament before coming up short one game before the tournament championship. This season, the Gators return to the diamond looking to make another run at the title.

According to Head Coach Beth Curtiss, the Gators’ will have to work hard to match last season’s success.

“The team and coaching staff have high expectations for this year,” said Curtiss. “We have our sights set on another NCAA Tournament Appearance, but there is a 40 game schedule and an NCAC Championship that we have to conquer first, which is not an easy task.  We have a very competitive schedule early in the season.”

All NCAC selection Sadie Stuart, ’15, says that the team’s expectations are higher than ever.

“We were one game away from moving on to the big stage so we got a taste of what going deep into the postseason is like,” said infielder Sadie Stuart, ’15. “We all definitely just want to keep going on after where we left off last May.”

Stuart joined teammates Haylea Hayden, ’14, Caitlin Nealer, ’16, in receiving NCAA Angola All-Region Team honors.  Last season, Stuart set a single-season record for homeruns with 11 and was named to the All-NCAC first team. Hayden, a second team All-NCAC selection, finished in the top 10 in seven categories, including: walks (24-1st), RBI’s (33 – 3rd), on-base percentage (.460-4th), runs scored (30-5th), doubles (13-7th), hits (44-8th), and batting average (.352-10th). Nealer set Allegheny single-season records in appearances (41), innings (244), and games started (30). Her 276 strikeouts are the third most by a Gator pitcher in a single season.

“We have a really talented and hard-working group of girls and we have high expectations,” said Hayden.

The Gators graduated three seniors last season including Stephanie Fort, who finished her career with the third most homeruns in program history.

“At the end of last season we graduated three seniors who brought not only dedication and talent to the team, but strong leadership and passion for the game,” said Hayden. “We relied on them for a lot of things last season and they will be missed.”

Allegheny softball welcomes nine rookies to the program this season, and the team is excited about their new additions, according to Nealer.

“We are a lot different than last year,” said Nealer. “We have about doubled our team and also I think we have a lot of faster girls which will definitely be a huge help. The freshmen class brought in four pitchers who will play a huge role this year if we plan on getting to Regionals again.”

The combination of new talent and veterans has the team confident that they can make another run at the title.

“I think one of our biggest assets is the fact that we only graduated two starters and the rest are back after experiencing such a big season last year,” said Stuart. “That is valuable experience that can help us get at least that far again. It also can help the freshmen having so many upperclassmen to look to for that experience they don›t have yet.”

Having gone so far in the tournament last year, the Gators will likely be the team to beat in the NCAC this season.

“I think the biggest thing we›re facing this season is the target on our backs,” Stuart said. “We were the fourth place team to make it into NCAC Conference tournament (the last team to get in) and ended up winning the whole thing and going on to the Regional Championship. There is no doubt the rest of our conference is looking to take us down after that.”

Due to inclement weather, the team’s first tournament has been pushed back one day. The Gators will take the field in Virginia Beach for a doubleheader Saturday at 3 p.m. They will play another doubleheader Sunday at 10 a.m.

“Our goals this year are to ultimately go farther than we went last year, but to get there we know we have to work extremely hard,” Nealer said. “Other teams are looking out for us and we are fully aware of that and ready to bring our A-game every time we step on the field.”

Coach Curtiss said that despite the team’s tough schedule, she thinks that her squad is ready.

“There is a lot of hard work ahead of us but this team is up for the challenge,” Coach Curtiss said. “Coach DeNillo and I can›t wait to see them on the field this weekend.”