Softball upperclassmen lead squad, set sights on next A-10 title

Media Credit: William Stricklett | Photographer

Softball has leveraged the postseason experience of its upperclassmen to lead the team this year.

Coming off the most successful season in program history, softball is relying on its experienced upperclassmen to once again guide them to the postseason.

After setting a program record for single-season wins (44) and achieving a share of the Atlantic 10 title for the first time, the Colonials (8-13) return six seniors and five juniors as they aim to reach their first NCAA Tournament. Head coach Shane Winkler said the 11 upperclassmen have handled the bulk of the playing time this year, leaning on postseason experience to lead the team on the field and as mentors to younger players.

“We have great character in our upperclassmen and that’s big because you want leaders, but you want leaders that you truly want your underclassmen to follow,” Winkler said after a loss to Monmouth Sunday. “They’re the type of people and the type of players that we want our younger kids to follow.”

The Colonials added five freshmen to the roster for the 2020 season. Freshman utility Maggie Greco said the guidance of the older players on the roster, especially senior utility Jessica Linquist, has been crucial to the freshmen feeling at home in Foggy Bottom.

“She was super nice, super open to helping out with anything I needed whether it was softball, school or just life in general,” Greco said prior to the season. “She’s a great teammate, a great athlete and I’m pretty confident in her behind the plate.”

Linquist started all 62 games last season as catcher and led the team with 65 runs scored. This campaign, she has started all 21 games and leads the team with 16 runs, but Winkler said her presence as a leader behind the plate is just as valuable to the team.

“Jess is our leader,” Winkler said after a win over Princeton March 1. “She’s going to catch 56, 60 games this year so she calls a lot of our games back there behind the plate. We rely on her a ton.”

Every position player in the regular starting lineup this season is an upperclassman, with the exception of Greco, who has appeared in 18 out of 21 games, including 16 starts.

Aside from Greco, the other freshman players have seen just 23 at-bats between them this season as Winkler has relied heavily on the seasoned veterans. He said he decided on the lineup based on practice performances.

“I write what I think gives us the best chance to win and obviously we want to give opportunities as much as possible but our job is to make sure we get the best lineup that gives us the chance to win,” Winkler said. “But too, that we’re giving us the best chance to grow as a team and as a program.”

Winkler said Greco’s athleticism and ability to be a “true utility player” convinced him to rearrange his lineup and shift the reigning A-10 Player of the Year, senior infielder Jenna Cone, to second base.

He said Cone, who leads the team with four fielding errors, had no experience playing second base prior to this season, but her success hitting helps her contribute to the team as she learns the new position.

The owner of six career program records, including home runs and runs batted in, Cone is integral to the team’s chances at another title in her final season at GW. This year, she leads the team in every offensive category aside from doubles, triples and on-base percentage.

Junior outfielder Sidney Bloomfield ranks No. 2 on the team in batting average (.356) and on-base plus slugging percentage (.847). She also leads the team with two triples.

Senior utility Faith Weber has stepped up to become the go-to hurler for GW following a preseason injury to junior utility Sierra Lange. She has pitched in 14 games and tossed a team-high 62.1 innings.

Weber’s increased presence in the circle has led to more opportunities elsewhere. She has started all 21 games even when she isn’t pitching and has ramped up her performances at the plate.

Across 37 at-bats last year, Weber hit at a .216 clip with no extra-base hits. Now a regular starter with a new mindset, she has raised her batting average to .246 and hit four home runs.

“I really try to think of it as two separate jobs, so when I’m pitching I try to completely disassociate from the hitting game,” Weber said after the Princeton game. “Obviously you’re always thinking about it because you want to perform both aspects, but if I have a bad at-bat or I give up a run, I try to refocus and just say ‘OK, new job, new pitch, next pitch, next pitch.’”

The Colonials will look to shut down Virginia Tech Tuesday. First pitch is slated for 3 p.m.

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