UMass Lowell’s softball team held a 21-19 record last season. (Courtesy of UMass Lowell Athletics)
Following a “historic” 2017 season, the UMass Lowell softball team is gearing up for their strongest season yet. With seven new freshmen set to take the field, the team has found their chemistry and is prepared to enter their first pre-season tournament on Friday, Feb. 16 against the University of Tennessee.
After losing a group of graduating seniors last spring, head coach Danielle Henderson added several players to the roster. As the team played a few games in the fall season, Henderson and the players were able to work through some of the initial nerves and problems that arise with the newcomers’ transition to college play.
“We have a whole new team, a lot of freshmen,” said Henderson. “The fall was just kind of everybody getting used to each other, because when you have new people, you don’t really know what it’s like playing with them. We’ve spent all year [building] that trust when you play and [knowing] who that person is. The team works harder than anybody, so that’s never a question; everything they do, they work hard, so it’s just been trying to mesh as a team.”
The River Hawks ended last season with a 21-19 record overall and the group is looking to do even better this spring. Henderson said that last season, there were games that were close, but the opposing team would take off near the end, costing UMass Lowell the victory. This year, the team is looking to finishing more games.
“Last season was pretty much historic for us, we had an awesome season,” said junior outfielder Sydney Barker. “We were the best women’s team here, we had the best record, so that was awesome. I think we went from being the underdog to now being the team to beat and I think it’s exciting because now we can play in the postseason. I think we’re just trying to build upon where we finished last year, and our goal is to be America East champions.”
The squad will start their year off with four non-conference tournaments, followed by several away games in and around New England. They will not play their first home game until April 7. By playing in tournaments against teams they typically would not otherwise face, Henderson said it gives the team a sense of confidence and prepares them for America East play.
She said that playing within the conference has a sense of familiarity, but it is a different pace when playing against some of the best teams in the country. For UMass Lowell, they have found that being challenged by some of the top pitchers better prepares them for conference play and, hopefully, for the postseason.
“In the pre-season tournaments, we’re playing a lot of SEC teams and teams that are just higher Division I and higher competition, so I think it will be cool to see how we do against them,” said Barker. “Once we get into America East play, we know we’re not going to face the Tennessees, the Missouris, stuff like that, so I think it will definitely help prepare us for America East play.”
With this year being the first for NCAA Division I eligibility, the team is certainly optimistic about their chances, but it is not something on the forefront of their minds. Indeed, the team is just looking to get better and better and if that takes them to postseason, so be it.
“I think if [we] focus on that, we’ll have a lot of what-ifs at the end of the year and a lot of regret,” said Henderson. “Our focus is just to now get better every single game and try to improve. I think we’re going to have a lot of ups and downs; we’re facing some tough competition, so we’re going to have to learn a lot.”
Henderson also said that the team had a similar mindset last season, but there is a new sense of urgency this time around. With the experience in the fall, the freshmen players were given the chance to acclimate to the new environment and understand their role in the team, but are now where they need to be, according to Barker. She said the team is ready to get out and play after having practiced inside for so long.
“You kind of go stir-crazy because there’s only so much you can do inside, but I think we’re just really excited to [take] what we’ve been doing in practice and see how it goes on the field against big SEC teams and stuff like that.”
The River Hawks’ first tournament will be the Pediatric Cancer Invitational in Clearwater, Florida. The team will take on the University of Hartford on April 7 in their first home match at River View Field.