April 30, 2009

Softball’s ‘Beast Mode’

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Athletes and teams of every sport all around the world adopt slogans and perform pre-game rituals to get fired up for competitions. The Cornell softball team is no different. This weekend, the Red will be in “Beast Mode” as it gears up to compete in a best-of-three series for the Ivy League title on its home diamond against Dartmouth.
Junior first baseman Ashley Garvey borrowed the term “Beast Mode” from NFL football player Marshawn Lynch of the Buffalo Bills, who coined the phrase to describe his athletic ability to the press. After sharing it with her teammates, the saying quickly became one of the squad’s most frequented expressions and is now fully embraced by the Red.
In Saturday’s doubleheader at 12:30 p.m. on Niemand Robison Field, Cornell (40-10, 17-3 Ivy) will look to put Dartmouth away early.[img_assist|nid=37356|title=Eye on the prize|desc=Softball hosts Dartmouth for the Ivy League Championship and an automatic berth into the NCAA tournament.|link=node|align=left|width=|height=0]
“Home field advantage is huge,” said junior third baseman Elise Menaker, “It will be exciting to have fans cheering for us on our field. Also, just the fact that there is no traveling involved makes things easier for us. It’s a long ride to Dartmouth. All of the pluses of hosting will work in our favor. This time around, it will be a totally different atmosphere and environment.”
The Big Green (22-20, 13-7 Ivy), coming off of a two-game sweep of Harvard to end the season first in the Ivy North Division, gave the Red one of just three Ivy losses this season.
“Dartmouth has a very solid pitching staff,” head coach Dick Blood said, “Their number one and number two pitchers are extremely strong. One is a drop ball pitcher, while the other is a rise-ball change-up, which is very similar to what we have.”
Sophomores Elizabeth Dalrymple and Ali Tomlinson make up Cornell’s impressive pitching duo that rivals Devin Lindsay and Hillary Barker of Dartmouth. Dalrymple will start game 1 on the mound, while Tomlinson will toe the rubber to lead off in game 2.
“[Dartmouth] has a deep lineup, so it will be tough to pitch around them,” Blood said. “We need to pitch smart and execute each pitch effectively. You can only pitch around so many players. We talk about focusing on every play. That goes for the defense, as well as the pitcher.”
“Both teams are very balanced,” Blood said, “It’s quite a matchup.”
In the division winners’ last meeting on April 5th in Hanover, NH, Cornell split with Dartmouth. In game 1, the Red lost narrowly, 7-5, in 10 innings of play before blowing out the Big Green in the second game, 10-2, after just six.
“We will try to drive the ball better,” Blood said, “We were too aggressive last time.”
“We are swinging the bat well and are picking each other up throughout the lineup,” added Menaker, “We are expecting these to be good, close games. Dartmouth wants to win just as much as we do.”
Since the beginning of Cornell’s spring campaign, the team mantra has been to “Beast Mode all day, ’er day.”
Menaker was first to reveal the team’s source of inspiration to help explain just how determined and united this Cornell softball club is.
“We started saying it early in the season to get pumped up and it just stuck,” Menaker said.
Even the Cornell parents jumped on the bandwagon and chant it collectively from the stands at the start of each game.
“Beast Mode,” which the players started using as a verb, seems to have taken on new significance to the 23 women.
Unfortunately, the Red was denied the chance to apply its ‘Beast Mode’ mentality early in the week against Syracuse.
The cancellation of Tuesday’s contest versus the Orange allowed the Red an extra opportunity to tweak its skills and unwind before this weekend’s matchup with the Green.
“Originally, we were scheduled to play Binghamton, but they called it off,” Blood said. “We tried to set something up with Syracuse to try to stay sharp, but it didn’t work out because it was arranged at the last minute. The game probably would have been rained out anyway and we were able to effectively use our practice time, so dropping the game was not an issue.”
“Playing Syracuse would have been another look at good pitching, but we got another day of rest and time to focus on mechanics at practice,” Menaker said, “It was a chance to go back to the basics.”
With 50 games already under its belt, an additional mid-week game would not have had a significant impact on the Red in terms of preparing for Dartmouth.
“Our team is very experienced with a starting lineup of mostly upperclassmen,” Menaker said, “What is interesting about these games on Saturday is that no one on the team has ever played in a [college] championship game. It will be interesting to see how everyone handles the pressure.”
The league champion will get an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. Because Ivy teams do not see tough enough competition consistently throughout the year, winning the conference is the Red’s only shot of making it on to the national stage.
“We can’t make the game full of pressure,” said senior captain Meg Risica, “We have done it a thousand times. We have swung the bat a thousand times. We have caught a thousand fly balls and fielded a thousand ground balls. It’s true, a lot is riding on this weekend, but you can’t think about that. I am going to tell them: don’t play not to loose…go in knowing that we will win.”
Coach Blood agreed, adding, “pay attention to all the details and don’t waste anything. Don’t waste a single pitch or an at-bat. Concentrate on every play of every inning.”
While Coach Blood reiterates the motto of taking every inning at a time, the players will also have “Beast Mode” on the brain.
“To us, ‘Beast Mode’ means to pick it up and not play tentatively. It’s the way we play our game,” explained Menaker, “We aim to leave it all out there on Saturday because this is it.”