Softball has yet to take the field for the 2019 season, but the team is already in championship mode.
Under the leadership of first-year head coach Shane Winkler, the Colonials are approaching their upcoming season, which begins Friday, with a no-games-off mentality after securing the program’s winningest record last year but falling short in Atlantic 10 play.
“We’re taking the approach that every single day is a championship practice, every single game is a championship game,” Winkler said. “If we do that, we’re going to be where we want to in the end.”
Under former head coach James DeFeo, the Colonials won a program-best 33 wins on the season, with the program’s next best record clocking in at 28 wins. The team put together the program’s longest winning streak at 13 games, while junior utility player Jenna Cone reached base in a program-best 35 consecutive outings last year.
But toward the end of A-10 play, the Colonials found themselves barely sliding into the A-10 Championship as the sixth and final seed of the tournament.
The Colonials exited after a 1–2 showing in the postseason and returned to Foggy Bottom without a championship ring, an ending to the season that “doesn’t cut it” for the team, senior infielder Riley Tejcek said.
“Last year, we did have a great season, however, the end result, how we did in the A-10s, that’s not how we wanted to,” Tejcek said. “So at the end of the day, yes we set all those records – which we’re proud of, absolutely – but we look at what we’ve accomplished in terms of our goals and we didn’t meet it.”
The Colonials return 14 members of last season’s squad, including seven of the team’s top hitters. GW swung .328 on the season last year to make the Colonials the No. 4 hitting team in the country and led the A-10 with a .493 slugging percentage.
Four Colonials – senior infielder Marta Fuentes, Cone, junior infielder Elena Shelepak and sophomore outfielder Sidney Bloomfield – ended last season owning top-six batting averages in the conference.
This year, Winkler said he is playing to the team’s strengths by tweaking the Colonials’ approach at the plate to make their swings pack an even bigger punch.
“From a hitting perspective, we are all about making the most power and drawing the most power from within our bodies, so a lot of that is elongating our strides,” Tejcek said. “It’s like a rubber band, you want to pull it all the way back so it can snap the most forward.”
While players are getting more power per swing, Winkler said he wants to avoid “cookie cutting” the team’s hitters and their approaches at the plate.
“We have some hitters that are going to work on trying to hit the ball over the fence and that’s going to be their approach and we got some hitters that are putting the ball in play,” Winkler said. “So it’s really just refining each kid, what their role is and how to best utilize their skill set.”
In the pitcher’s circle, the Colonials will enjoy a depth to the pitching staff that was missing last season.
The Colonials return a strong arm in sophomore utility player Sierra Lange, whose 15 wins in 23 starts as a rookie made her one of the top-five pitchers in the A-10 last season while also batting .355 at the plate.
The Colonials relied on Lange and 2018-graduate Sarah Costlow as starting pitchers last season, and the duo threw first pitches in a combined 47 of GW’s 54 games last season.
But the Colonials have returned another option to the rubber in senior pitcher Jayme Cone, who sat out last season with an elbow injury. The Colonials will also utilize freshman pitcher Megan Osterhaus, who played on her high school varsity softball team since the seventh grade before coming to GW.
“The more an offense gets to see one pitcher, the better chance for success that offense is going to have,” Winkler said. “So what we’re going to go into is trying to have an opposing team see our pitchers as few times as possible.”
Winkler said he started a countdown nearly 50 days ago to remind the team of its upcoming opening day and now that the season opener is one day away, excitement in the dugout is higher than ever.
“We just really want more,” Fuentes said. “We have that inner drive in us to exceed expectations from last year and just play ball.”
The Colonials kick off their season Friday at 11 a.m. against Georgetown in the first game of the Gardner-Webb Tournament in Boiling Springs, N.C.