March 27, 2009

Softball Team Ready for Ivy Play

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After an impressive outing in Florida last week, the women’s softball team is more than prepared to launch into the main attraction of the spring season: Ivy League competition. Cornell is scheduled to play two doubleheaders this weekend at its home venue, Niemand-Robison Field, against Brown (4-10) and Yale (9-11) to open the Ivy League season. The Red will take on the Bears and the Bulldogs tomorrow and Sunday with 12:30 p.m. and 2:30 p.m. starts on both days.
The softball team returned to Ithaca on Sunday and was forced to quickly snap back to reality, with farmer’s tans as the only remnants to show for the 17-game stretch of Spring Break.
Tuesday marked the team’s first outdoor practice of the spring. After competing in Florida, one might expect the team to miss the southern climate.
“Of course it is better to play in warmer weather, but we are used to playing here in Ithaca,” said senior captain Meg Riscia, “The outfield is still a bit soggy, but it was good to get outside.”
“Everyone is excited to open up at home,” said junior infielder Elise Menaker. “It is nice not to have to travel this weekend.”[img_assist|nid=36329|title=Eye on the ball|desc=Junior Elise Menaker was named Ivy League Player of the Week for her .436 batting average over the past 11 games.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
Having made quite a rumble on the road during the Stetson Invitation and the Rebel Spring Games, the Red left the sunshine state with an overall record of 19-5 and an eight-game winning streak to boot.
Still, the Red will not go into the weekend’s contests with the goal of just keeping its hot spell alive. Rather, the team will look to the games ahead of it as a whole new season, using the wins of the past merely as momentum.
“Those wins don’t mean anything anymore,” Menaker said. “Essentially, we are starting over.”
Menaker, whose performance in Florida earned her Ivy Player of the Week honors, was instrumental in the Red’s last 11 wins, during which she boasted a .436 batting average.
“There is definitely a sense of urgency surrounding Ivy competition. We know now that it is time to step up,” said sophomore pitcher Ali Tomlinson.
“Obviously, we play hard every game, but we approach the Ivy League games with a different mindset. These games are magnified in the respect that each play has more meaning behind it. You could say there is more pressure because it’s the competition that you anticipate from as early as the fall,” Menaker said, “We take one game at a time with a ‘do or die’ mentality.”
With that being said, it is no secret that the Red is aiming for an Ivy League Championship.
“We have placed second every year since we have been here. It always seems to come down to a couple of teams and a couple of games. Because it is common for teams to come in and upset, we have to treat each team equally and with the same intensity knowing that anything can happen any day,” said Menaker, “Princeton is really our big rival, but that does not mean that we can take the other teams lightly.”
Menaker referred to Brown and Yale as such teams that have the potential to surprise.
“Brown has given us tough losses in the past. We have a target on our backs just as other teams in the Ivies do,” said Menaker.
Like Cornell, Brown and Yale flew down to Kissimmee, Fla., for the Rebel Spring Games.
Brown finished up its trip Wednesday with a record of 2-7 after surrendering its last two games to North Florida. The Bears will look to avenge six consecutive losses when they come to Ithaca tomorrow.
Yale fared better than Brown, ending the Spring Break tournament at .500 with a record of 6-6 on the week. The Bulldogs, who have gained confidence from a two-game sweep of Army at West Point, N.Y., will be gunning for its top-ranked Ivy foes. Yale plays away Saturday against defending champion Princeton. The doubleheader in New Jersey will be the start of what will be a challenging weekend for the underdogs.
As for Cornell, team comradery might just be the Red’s ticket to a league title.
“The team takes every opportunity to pick each other up,” Tomlinson said. “We have great chemistry—even better than last year. Every player contributes and has a positive impact as a member of the team. Pinch hitters and bunters play important roles, too.”
A squad of quality players won’t hurt the Red’s chances, either. Sophomore pitching duo Tomlinson and Elizabeth Dalrymple will be depended on heavily this spring.
For her stunning efforts from the mound, the righty Dalrymple, who struck out 40 batters to go 4-0 for the Red last week, captured Ivy Pitcher of the Week to join Menaker in the league spotlight.
“We are very lucky that Elizabeth has been healthy this year,” Tomlinson said, “She and the freshmen pitchers are going to be real assets to the team.”
Focused and ready for this weekend, the Red players are crossing their fingers that their home diamond will be the site of tomorrow and Sunday’s games.
“Coach reserved the Cortland State Fields in the event that our field is not up to par,” said Riscia, “During the winter, the field is frozen and it is at this time that the ground defrosts, resulting in muddy conditions.”
The natural playing surface is particularly inconvenient for Riscia, an outfielder, but she did not spend much time dwelling on the matter.
“We can only focus on things that are controllable. That’s what we plan to do this weekend.”