Softball will enter the Atlantic 10 Championship series as the top seed Thursday looking to repeat its first title from last spring after dominating the A-10 for a second straight season.
The Colonials lineup has swung its way to a 30-13 record this season and a .875 conference winning percentage by the end of the conference slate, outsourcing opponents 89-21 with a .312 batting average and 43 extra-base hits. Softball continued its momentum from its 2021 championship-winning season with an overpowering offensive display under new head coach Chrissy Schoonmaker who was hired in July and has led the Colonials to score an A-10-leading and even set a program-record road-game win streak of 10 games.
“We talk a lot about going one game at a time, and I would tell you that this team is just locked in on that mentality,” Schoonmaker said in an interview. “I like their fire to light their energies, so I’m going to tell you one of the biggest accomplishments this year is just being locked in on one another and playing the game to the standard of GW.”
The Colonials will play their first game of the championship at noon Thursday at George Mason softball field, but the A-10 has yet to announce the matchups for the series.
Schoonmaker said she looks to ingrain a locked-in mentality into players through commitment and accomplishments as they approach championships where the team will play to the GW standard of winning games. She said scoring runs and consistency have been among the team’s strong suits throughout the season.
Schoonmaker said the team is looking to hone in on cleaner defense heading into the championship series after ending the season with a conference-leading .986 fielding percentage.
“I think we’ve played a challenging slate early in our preseason schedule, and that was intentional,” she said. “We played a challenging preseason slate to prepare us, and I think that has paid dividends for us.”
Schoonmaker said the team has been welcoming of the new coaching staff that has formed a strong culture focused on mutual trust with the players.
“They’ve got great energy, they’ve got great wits about them, they keep me on my toes, are a joy to be around, but it’s been an outstanding experience thus far,” she said.
Graduate utility player Sierra Lange has been the team’s standout star with a .356 batting average, 15 runs and 12 RBIs with three doubles and three homers over 43 games this season. Lange has also dominated the mound with a 6-0 record, earning a 2.28 ERA and 33 strikeouts and keeping opponents to a .218 batting average within 35 innings.
Lange said adjusting to the coaching style of the new coaching staff during the summer and developing team culture were integral to the team’s success this season.
“I think we had a tough preseason, and that helped us gain the confidence and prepare us well for a regular season,” she said. “There’s always going to be ups and downs to a season, but I think that’s just how it goes. And it helps us be stronger and helps us learn for other opportunities.”
Lange said the new team culture under Schoonmaker has developed players’ relationships, which helped create an “all-star team” and increase camaraderie on and off the field. She said the culture has grown within the team to foster a family that will support each other on the trek for an A-10 Championship win.
Lange has been an instrumental part of the team throughout her five years with the Colonials with a 2.57 ERA, .385 batting average and 233 hits. Lange was named the A-10 Pitcher of the Year, A-10 All-Conference First Team, A-10 All-Academic Team, A-10 Championship Most Outstanding Player and the NFCA All Mid-Atlantic Region First Team during her senior season.
“Yes it’s crazy, I can’t believe it’s going to be my last year,” Lange said. “What I definitely want to leave with the team is just leaving it better than how we came in and just making sure that culture of us making everyone feel comfortable and who they are.”
Graduate utility player Alessandra Ponce, another leading weapon in the lineup, said the team’s main goal is to maintain the 19-strong mentality, a mantra that Schoonmaker coined to push all 19 players to show the same level of commitment to step up when they are on the championship field. Ponce logged 20 runs with 27 RBIs and 50 hits this season. She notched the 55th double of her career during the senior weekend, breaking the program record.
“I feel like we’re right where we need to be,” she said. “I would just want to make sure that we stay focused in the moment pitch to pitch at bat to at bat. We have all the tools we need to succeed.”
She said Schoonmaker has brought a fresh perspective as a new coach to the team that has allowed players to step into their roles under her guidance, and her previous experience as a softball player at South Carolina has helped develop their mindset both defensively and offensively. She said the new coaching staff, led by Schoonmaker’s experience as a coach and former player, gave the team a fresh start for the new season.
Ponce, who had been given an extra eligibility year due to the pandemic, said she was thankful for the extra year that allowed her to spend more time with the new coaching staff and players.
“I’m hoping to leave the program with these long lasting effects of success are team culture,” she said. “You always want to leave it better than you found it, so if I can say or hope that I’ve left my mark on this program, this university, then that’s really the goal.”