Six months into his tenure as head coach, James DeFeo is already setting high standards for GW softball.
He took over the program this past summer, following the resignation of six-year head coach Stacey Schramm, who led the Colonials to their first playoff berth since 2013, last spring.
The Atlantic City, N.J. native hopes to take his team – which returns 11 letterwinners and welcomes a large but talented freshman class – even further in 2017, and potentially to its first Atlantic 10 title in school history.
“We’re setting the bar a little higher,” DeFeo said. “Our goal every year is not just to make the tournament but to win it…I think what [myself and the coaching staff] brings is a new intensity and a new system. I think our coaching style matches the athletes here really well.”
In his six-year tenure at Mercer University, DeFeo posted a winning 147-134 record, and led the Bears to their first back-to-back conference championship appearances. Before coaching at Mercer, he served as an associate head coach at LSU from 2004 to 2011.
The Colonials – who opened the season last weekend with a 2-3 mark at the D9 Orange Blossom Invitational in Orlando, Fla. – finished 2016 at 23-29 overall and 10-13 in Atlantic 10 play, and were eliminated in their fourth-ever A-10 Tournament as a No. 6 seed after two opening-round losses.
Despite the tough ending, 2016 marked a record year for GW. Finishing with a 23-29 (10-13 A-10) record, the Colonials set program records in team doubles (81), triples (21) and sacrifice hits (60).
After graduating strong all-around players in Carlee Gray and Morgan Matetic this offseason, GW was picked to finish sixth in the 2017 A-10 Preseason Poll.
“I think we’re going to prove a lot of people wrong this year,” senior outfielder Monica Macchiarulo said. “We have full expectations to make it to [the A-10 Championship] again so we’re really shooting to win it.”
This year’s team is a cohesive mix of veterans and rookies that has the potential to become a championship-winning team, DeFeo said.
“I think having such a big freshman class can be scary at times,” he said. “But [the rookies] work really hard and and have adapted really well to the system.
Among the seven incoming players, DeFeo spoke highly of Jenna Cone and Priscilla Martinez, who will be splitting duties at the backstop. In addition to their strong defensive play, Cone and Martinez offer depth to the Colonials’ offensive lineup.
“With freshman that came in like Priscilla and Jenna [we have] big hitters,” senior infielder Paige Kovalsky said. “We’re definitely a very good hitting team and our lineup is solid one-through-nine.”
After the first weekend of play, rookie first baseman Elena Shelepak leads GW with .467 batting average on seven hits in 15 at-bats.
A core of veterans, however, will serve as the backbone of the talented group. Macchiarulo, who finished with a team-high batting average of .384 last season despite battling injury, and fellow senior Megan Linn, who recording a team-leading 60 hits and 39 runs last year, will continue to lead the charge offensively.
On the mound, the team has a number of options. The majority of pitching responsibilities last spring were split between returners Kovalsky (5.30 ERA, 67.1 IP), sophomore Jayme Cone (5.87 ERA, 68.0 IP) and junior ace Sarah Costlow, who threw a whopping 188.0 innings and finished with a team-best 2.72 ERA.
Freshmen Kaitlin Buff and Faith Weber join this year’s rotation. The pair, as well as junior Ashley Pilcher, saw action in Orlando last weekend.
Aside from personnel, DeFeo said he thinks a culture of mental resilience – something he and his staff have tried to work on in the months leading up to this season– has resonated with the Colonials and can help them achieve their goals this spring.
“[DeFeo] brings a very positive and uplifting culture to the program,” Kovalsky said. “It helps [on the field] that we all feel that he really does believe in us.”
After a four-game road stint at the UNC-Greensboro Invitational this weekend, the Colonials will host Quinnipiac and Monmouth in their home-opener on Friday, March 3 at 1 p.m.
This post was updated to reflect the following correction:
The Hatchet incorrectly reported that GW was picked to finish eighth in the 2017 Atlantic 10 Preseason Poll. The team was picked to finish sixth. We regret this error.