Coming off its first Atlantic 10 Championship in program history last season, softball is turning its attention to a six-game exhibition fall slate.
With 44 wins on the season, last season’s Colonials became the winningest team in program history, and 14 of the 19-player roster are returning this season. Players and head coach Shane Winkler said the team will rely on senior leadership and harness a “zero days off” mentality to power through its fall slate.
“We’ve got championship rings coming in November, but the biggest thing is we left a lot of meat on the bone,” Winkler said. “There’s a lot of things that we still want to accomplish and know that we’re capable of.”
The squad picked up 44 wins on the season, leading the conference in runs (373), hits (582) and extra base hits (167). In the circle, the Colonials topped the conference in strikeouts (314). In his second season as the team’s head coach, Winkler said he hopes to instill a “culture of winning.”
“We want to build a championship culture where we’re committed to excellence in everything that we’re doing,” Winkler said. “That was the biggest thing, we spent an entire year really building what we want this program to be all about and we’re starting from a great spot.”
While the Colonials had to share their title with Fordham after inclement weather forced the cancellation of the championship game in May, players said they aim to become the sole winners of 2020. Winkler said the trek back to the championship started in the summer, and players have worked to refine their skillsets and learn from the off-season losses.
“We’ve just been working on being as competitive as possible and being the most well-rounded team we can,” Winkler said. “We’ve had a solid fall so far. We’ve lost a couple games, which can sometimes be a good thing in the fall because it continues to push us.”
Winkler said the coaching staff is focused on familiarizing players with a consistent batting routine during practice to ensure they’re “as relaxed in the seventh inning of the championship game as we are in practice.” He said he wants to outwork the squad’s opponents by putting in more time and training on and off the field.
“Just getting a little bit better every day,” he said. “If that’s 1 percent, that’s great. We’re trying to make sure that we’re taking zero days off.”
The squad lost four players – outfielder Criza Bulanadi, infielder Marta Fuentes, pitcher Jayme Cone and infielder Riley Tejceck – to graduation last season. But the team retains 14 members of its championship team and added five freshmen to the roster.
Senior utility player Jenna Cone, who became the first in program history to be named A-10 Player of the Year last season, said the squad is taking each fall game one step at a time. She said the team aims to make it back to the postseason.
“It’s important that you never settle and you keep your eye on the prize, but you need to understand that everything you do today will have an impact on a couple of months from now,” Cone said. “But focusing on improving every day is the key.”
She added that the squad is using six exhibition games in its fall slate to work on defensive communication and quickness. Cone said the team is looking to improve its timing and pitch selection of its hits on the offensive end.
The squad’s fall slate lasts for a month and stretches from Sept. 21 to Oct. 26. The team faced alumni during Colonials Weekend Sept. 21 and then took on Georgetown Sept. 22. The team traveled to Mount St. Mary’s Sept. 29 before matching up with Howard Oct. 4. A week later, the Colonials will see Georgetown again Oct. 11 before closing out its fall schedule at home against Virginia Oct. 26.
Senior utility player Jessica Linquist, who topped the team with 65 runs last season, said consistent practice and repetition will limit physical errors, but the squad needs to remain “locked in” on the game and season to limit mental errors, like misfielding a ball.
“If we’re practicing every single day, the physical part, it’ll happen, but a majority of mistakes become mental at that point,” Linquist said. “Because you’re practicing so much, it’s not really about the skills anymore, it’s about being locked in and focused and ready to make each player do it the right way.”
Linquist added that each game and practice moves the team closer toward its goal of winning a championship outright.
“Coach said earlier that you can’t win a championship in the fall, but you can lose one in the fall,” she said. “So everything we’re doing right now is setting the tone for that final weekend in May.”