Softball team looks to build upon successful past season
As reigning Ivy League co-champions, softball looks to build on their success and raise the standard of excellence that has been set through strong play the past few seasons even higher. Last year, softball finished first in the Ivy League through regular season play but lost to Harvard University 4-6 and 1-4 in both games at the Ivy League Championship Series. With the loss, the Big Green became co-champions and Harvard moved on to compete in NCAA Regionals. Softball has also seen a coaching change, with the old head coach Shannon Doepking leaving for Syracuse University after a successful four-year stint in which she won Ivy League Coach of the Year twice and the team went 118-98. Hired in October, new head coach Jennifer Williams spent the past eight years at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology as head coach, compiling the most wins in program history.
Predicted to finish fifth within the Ivy League in a 2018 preseason poll, Dartmouth rose above expectations and demonstrated that they are a force in Ivy League softball. The team had a 16-5 conference record and a 22-18 record overall. Current captains Morgan Martinelli ’19 (third base) and Taylor Ward ’19 (pitcher) were selected to First Team All-Ivy. Catcher Schae Nelson ’21 was the 2018 Ivy League Rookie of the Year and a First Team All-Ivy selection as well. Last year, out of all Ivy League first-years Nelson ranked first in runs, hits, RBIs, doubles, home runs and walks. Second baseman Micah Schroder ’20 and pitcher Heather Turner ’21 earned Second Team All-Ivy honors.
However, this year’s team is not focusing on last year. Instead, they are staying committed to this year’s process and laying the groundwork to go even further. For one, both Nelson and Turner spoke to a change in team dynamic promoted by Williams that has created a very healthy, supportive environment and allows them to develop as people, students and athletes.
“I think it’s been a great adjustment for our team. She allows us to be who we want to be and allows adjustments to be made,” Turner said. “It just feels like a completely different team. Everyone wants to be there and wants to compete.”
The team has devoted one practice a week this pre-season to discuss the kind of culture they want to create. Themes have included resilience, identity and pride, trust, vulnerability and courage. Williams sees a positive team culture as essential to both personal development as well as having a direct impact on performance on the field. Six new talented first-years have contributed to the team’s new energy, as has the strong leadership of Martinelli and Ward. Additionally, the team has seen a change in strength training.
“Our strength coaches this year really motivate us and focus on the right things that are going to improve our sport so we can be stronger but also faster and efficient,” remarked Nelson.
Dartmouth traveled to Charleston, South Carolina this past weekend to start their challenging slate of pre-conference play over the next few weeks. The team had close losses to both Appalachian State (2-1) and the College of Charleston (7-6) and picked up wins against Charleston Southern (5-3) and Radford (7-0). The Big Green also lost a tough match-up 12-0 against Iowa State.
“That was a great learning opportunity,” Williams said. “It wasn’t a fun game to play but we were able to learn a lot from it.”
Madie Augusto ’22 was named Ivy League Pitcher of the Week as well as Co-Rookie of the Week with Infielder Bryce West ’22 after a weekend of strong play. Two wins out of their first weekend of pre-conference play is a strong start for the Big Green, but Williams is focused on the future and staying true to their process.
“I’m not looking at last weekend and saying 'well, we have two wins already,'” Williams said. “I’m looking at last weekend and saying ‘well, we did a good job getting a couple of wins' but I hope the team walks away knowing that we need to continue pushing to be able to lock up some of those close games cause they absolutely have the talent to do it. We need them to believe they have that talent and then look for it and find it.”
This weekend, the Big Green travels to Florida to play in the University of Central Florida Invite, Louisiana Tech University, UCF, University of Toledo, and No. 1 ranked Florida State. According to Williams, their focus will be on competing as a team instead of worrying about performing as individuals. Specifically, they have worked on hitting off faster pitching that they expect to see this weekend. Heather Turner ’21 said that the team motto this week is “compete, be confident and play our game.” “Playing our game” signifies the Big Green’s commitment to the process and focusing on what the team can control during games instead of worrying over external factors like umpires.While the team has already seen positive impacts of a more positive environment, Williams looks forward to seeing this progress more throughout the rest of the season.
“There’s a standard of excellence that has existed in softball particularly with on-field work. I want to continue that standard of excellence on the field and I want to raise the standard of excellence off the field,” she said.
A preseason poll predicts the Big Green will finish second in the Ivy League to Harvard this year. Despite last year’s success, the season-ending loss to Harvard has certainly created a motivating drive for the Big Green to come back this year and defeat them.
On team goals for the season, Nelson stated, “Definitely, finish stronger. Harvard is going to be our number one competition this year that we want to defeat.” Columbia and Princeton will also be Ivy League competitors to look out for.
Overall, softball looks poised and motivated for another strong season. Over spring break, softball will head to California to compete in the CSUN/Loyola Marymount Tournament. Ivy League play begins March 23 against Columbia University and Dartmouth’s first home game is March 30 against the University of Pennsylvania.