This past weekend the Cornell women’s softball team clinched at least a share of the Ivy League title by sweeping Penn and splitting with Princeton.
An impressive feat by any means, but even more amazing when you consider the expectations these women had coming into the season.
By the time the Red finally took to the field this year, the glory of an Ivy championship won two years prior was all but completely lost. A dismal follow-up season which saw the Red fall out of the title race very early on hadn’t helped expectations either.
To add to the somewhat dismal outlook, the Red’s number two pitcher was lost for this entire year, the recruiting class was pretty good but not highly touted by any means, and question marks hovered everywhere in the line-up.
The season that unfolded from that point has been nothing less than magical. The freshman class has had an immediate impact on a team that seemed on the brink of being coined a struggling program. Simultaneously, the upperclass leadership drew from its experience two years ago and has driven the team game in and game out.
It was that unique blend of rookie talent and senior know-how that has been the formula for success the Red has counted on all year long. And because of the consistency of that formula the word ‘championship’ will forever be associated with the 2001 Cornell softball season.
“The mutual bond that the first-year players and upperclassmen created this season was really noteworthy,” said an elated head coach Dick Blood.” They are all delighted at the success that has come out of that bond.”
When asked if there was one moment in the season at which Blood realized that his team had an opportunity to go all the way, he offered a quick and definite answer.
“It was during the Brown game [two weekends ago],” he said, “when we scored nine runs in the bottom of the third inning after having fallen behind by eight runs early in the game.
“That was when I realized our offense could score enough runs all year to support our consistent defense and super pitching staff.”
The seniors — including captain Charlotte Brombach, pitching ace Nicole Zitarelli, and Sunday’s hero Allison Batten — exit on a high note, having won a pair of Ivy titles in their four years.
On the other hand, the freshmen now approach the next three years with huge expectations to repeat and build on the success of their first season.
Kate Varde — one of the dynamite freshmen, who has now broken three school and national records for home runs by a freshman, home runs in a game, and home runs in one season by a Cornell player — noted the pressure created by this year’s championship.
“It is going to make people expect more of us now, but you take these sort of things when you get them, ” she said, “You never know what’s going to happen in a single game, let alone over the course of three years.”
Classmate Sarah Sterman, who stepped masterfully into the role of number two starter after not knowing whether she would pitch at all, echoed Varde’s excitement for the here and now.
“You don’t really think about the future when you accomplish something as hard as this,” she remarked.” It’s just great to walk around, have people notice that you play softball, and congratulate you for something you’ve worked hard for.”
The Red now has to sit and wait for a doubleheader next weekend between Harvard and Dartmouth to see whether or not it will have to share the title with either team. If the two teams split, the Red will retain sole position of the league crown.
A sweep by either team will result in their tying Cornell for the Ivy lead. In that case, both teams win the league but a playoff will determine who earns the automatic bid to the NCAA tournament.
Although none of the Red players will admit which team they’d rather play if there was a sweep, it’s obvious that everyone will have the word “split” on their lips come Saturday.
“No matter what happens next weekend,” summed up Blood,” there are two words that come to mind when I think about this title: important and special.”
Those two words can also easily sum up this entire season and the players who have made it such a pleasure to follow. Let’s just hope there’s a lot more softball to be played for this electric group of athletes.
The Red will continue to sharpen its skills for its possible trip to the NCAAs by taking on Ithaca College today at 4 p.m. on South Hill.
Archived article by Scott Jones