March 4, 2005

Softball Opens Season

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If Mother Nature decides to cooperate, the softball team will head to Fairfax, Va., for the Patriot Classic this weekend.

Although the Red planned to leave yesterday afternoon, the team is still waiting to hear whether or not the fields will be cleared of snow in time for tomorrow’s games. Head coach Dick Blood is hoping the weather will cooperate, and the team will have a chance to start gaining valuable game experience.

“Let’s say, for example, we get four games this weekend and our starters get 16 at bats,” he said. “That’s 16 more at bats that they’ll feel more comfortable with when we play down at Drexel next weekend. [If we keep] getting canceled out here and canceled out there … there’s no way to catch up. It’s a challenge.”

These early season games are crucial for a young team that is trying to fill the holes left by the graduation of five players that earned All-Ivy honors last year, including three first team selections.

“Last year was really a magical season for us,” Blood said. “Matching those numbers will be very, very difficult to do.”

In 2004, the Red won the Ivy League championship, earned the program’s first NCAA tournament victory, and set a program record with 48 wins.

While the team had the chance to play a light schedule in the fall, there are still many unknowns for the Red. All the outfield positions were left vacant with graduation, and the team also lost its No. 1 pitcher, Sarah Sterman ’04. Melissa Heintz, who left the team last year despite having a season of eligibility left, leaves a hole behind the plate after starting at the catcher position for two years and earning two consecutive All-Ivy first team honors.

However, Blood expects that the talented freshmen and sophomores on the team will be ready to step up and fill the gaps in the lineup.

“Just like our freshmen outfield core — they ‘re gonna want to get those innings, they want those at bats,” he said. “They want to play, they don ‘t want to sit on the bench.”

The Red ‘s backup pitcher from last year, junior Whitney Smith, will see action on the mound for this weekend. Blood also expects immediate contributions from freshmen pitchers Jen Meunier and Jen Lesczinski, both of whom showed promise in the fall competition. Another strong asset for the Red is senior Lauren May, the 2004 Ivy League player of the year and the first Cornell softball player to earn All-American honors. May led the Ivy League in batting average, home runs, and RBI last year.

Cornell will face George Mason, Syracuse, and Albany in the Patriot Classic. With these teams lined up, the Red is not starting the season with easy games. Syracuse has already beaten UCLA this season, and Albany returns most of its top players from a year ago.

“We ‘re excited about playing [Syracuse],” Blood said. “We split with them this fall. They’ve got a fabulous young program, so we hope we can compete with them. Albany ‘s got an outstanding program too. Although we are going to be challenged — we lost some of the meat of our order [to graduation] — I like the nucleus of our club. I ‘m looking forward to it. I think we can compete with these clubs.”

Archived article by Olivia Dwyer
Sun Staff Writer