After winning numerous accolades at the Liberty League tournament last year, the women’s softball team looks to start this season on a high note. The 2016 season was unprecedented for the team as they recorded 17 wins on their way to the league’s postseason since joining the conference in 2012.
The team also gained recognition from their peers at the Liberty Leagues end-of-the-season awards for 2016. The entire coaching staff, comprised of head coach and RIT alum Rebecca Stryker, and her assistants Alyssa Serinis, Nicole Watson, and Mary Karen Wheat, were chosen for the Coaches of the Year award. Last season was also a personal milestone for Stryker, as the team recorded their 100th win under her leadership. Presently, she has won a 103 games in seven season as the coach of the Tigers.
Eight members of the team were awarded as well — including fourth year Physician Assistant major and team captain Sierra Valentine, who was named Liberty League Pitcher of the Year. Second year Engineering major Danielle Hotz who is also a team captain, was also awarded for her efforts, and was awarded the league’s Rookie of the Year award.
Samantha Killian, along with Hotz, and Valentine, were named in the first team for the year, while Tori Blaker, Cook, and Martin were picked for the second team. Emily Shoemaker and Sarah Thayer also garnered honorable mentions. RIT's outgoing seniors also set an example for the team, as outfielder Amanda Cook, third baseman McKenzie Martin, and infielder Emily Shoemaker all received All-League honors.
At the softball Valentine Rose Sale in the Wallace Library, fourth year Industrial Design major Samantha Killian was eager to discuss last year's unprecedented success. She reminisced about the glorious time that the team had and her experience at the Liberty League Tournament. Even though the team lost both games by one run margins, the experience of the big leagues was invaluable.
In the process of achieving new heights in the Tigers’ softball history, she said the team spirit that she saw was commendable, and the losses only spurred them on to perform better for this season. When asked about the incoming freshmen, and whether they would be able to fill up the boots left behind the seniors, Killian only had good things to say about the new talented bunch of teammates. She did not hold back in praise for them and highlighted that the team has been practicing regularly and vigorously to do better than last season.
"We really took off in the second half of the season. Our pitching and hitting started to come through, especially in the conference games."
Stryker was also willing to discuss last season and the team's preparations for the upcoming one. She especially lauded her team's effort during the later portion of the 2016 season, when all the players truly went above and beyond. “We really took off [in] the second half of the season. Our pitching and hitting started to come through, especially in the conference games,” she said. “We pulled off some tough wins, that put us in a good position to make the conference tournament, which we haven’t been to.” Reaching the Liberty League tournament was an achievement as well as a highlight of the season, both for Stryker and the team.
"This year, we are looking to take off from where we left off."
Neither the coaching staff nor the players look to be resting on the laurels of last season. Instead, they are fully geared up for the rigors of next season and the promise that it brings. “This year, we are looking to take off from where we left off,” said Stryker.
The team is mostly unchanged, although the staff has lost its assistant coach Alyssa Serinis. However, it did add four freshmen to the team to fill in the positions vacated by last year's graduating seniors. The team also returns both of its pitchers, as well as a freshman pitcher. A majority of the infield and outfield also returned after a well deserved break, fully charged up to confront next season and the inevitable challenges that come with it.
The team has a healthy infusion of six freshmen, three of whom go straight into the first team, replacing the outgoing pitcher, third baseman, and outfield players. When asked about how the freshmen were settling into a team that was coming off of the back of an impressive season, Stryker was very optimistic. Most of the players will be permanent starters. She did mentioned one key mix-up. “[The] outfield will be sharing time a little bit, in order to transition to the new season,” she explained.
The new season begins on March 3, when the team travel down to Virginia Beach to play four games at the Virginia Wesleyan Beach Blast in Norfolk, Va. The Tigers compete against Hunter College, Lancaster Bible College, Western Connecticut State, and St. Joseph’s Brooklyn. Come March 11, the Tigers then make their annual trip to the National Training Center down in Clermont, Fla where they will play 10 games to mentally prepare for the rigors of the new season.
This tournament will be followed by two weeks of non-conference games before league play begins. Then, on May 4–6, the Liberty League tournament will be hashed out to determine who will win an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. As per the rules, only the top four teams in regular season play make the league tournament and play a double elimination format matchup.
The captains, including third year Biology major Lauren Mahar, under the guidance of coach Stryker and her talented coaching staff, hope to lead the team into what everyone at RIT hopes will be a season better than the last one.