April 28, 2011

Led by Freshmen, Softball Eyes Third Straight Ivy Title

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There has been one constant for Cornell’s last two softball teams; both Ivy League champions achieved success by relying on experience. In 2009, seven of the nine regular starters were either juniors or seniors and only one freshman was given a starting job. In 2010, five of the starters were seniors and only one, current sophomore Kristen Towne, was a freshman. This year’s team (24-18-1, 9-5-0 Ivy) is trying to disprove the trend that experience is necessary to win the Ivy League championship.

Currently the Red starts at least three freshman and sometimes as many as four. Five freshmen — first baseman Lauren Bucolo, second baseman Jenny Edwards, third baseman Sarah McCormack, right fielder Christina Villalon and left fielder Sam Creamer — have seen significant time in the field and at the plate, while freshmen Katrina Conklin and J.J. Briggs have also played key roles as late-game substitutions and pinch-runners. On the mound, rookies Alyson Onyon and Sammy Roth have made spot relief appearances behind the pitching core of senior tri-captains Elizabeth Dalrymple and Ali Tomlinson.

Although the newest members of the Red have handled being thrown into the fire with poise — as the Red sits three games up on Penn in the Ivy League South division — it has by no means been an easy transition from the high school level to the collegiate level for the group.

“There is definitely a huge difference. I feel like everyone who plays in college, [while] in high school they were the superstars, when you get to college, everyone is so good,” Bucolo said. “We also obviously felt the pressure to do so well, since our team has done well in the past. Part of it was just knowing we had to repeat that because obviously everyone wants to … win an Ivy League championship again.“

“I think they’ve handled the pressure great,” Dalrymple said of the freshman class. “Coming in as a freshman is difficult and there’s a lot to learn, and I think they’ve done a great job.”

The freshmen have also had to rely on the upperclassmen on the team, especially their tri-captains — senior outfielder Marissa Amiraian, Dalrymple and Tomlinson.

“Our three captains … have been awesome. They were so welcoming when everybody got here and they really understand everything that is going on and they’ve just done a great job teaching all of the freshmen what it’s like to play in college,” Bucolo said.

“We’ve mixed around the people that we’ve had in the field so our returners are in different positions than last year,” Dalrymple added. “They’ve all done a great job helping the freshmen come in and be effective right away, like the junior infielders [Erin Keene and Morgan Cawley] and Marissa, who has helped the corner outfielders adjust.”

Although teaching the rookies all the tricks of the trade is important, the biggest thing the older players have instilled in the freshmen is a hardworking attitude.

“We lead by example. We work really hard every time we go in [to practice] and we put a lot of time into it, [which teaches] them how important it is to put 100-percent effort every day at practice and that it will carry on over to the games,” Dalrymple said.

“Games are definitely a reflection of how you practice, so the [way] you practice is going to be reflected in the games,” Bucolo said, acknowledging how much the influence of the senior tri-captains has rubbed off on her.

Last week, Edwards was named the Ivy League Softball Rookie of the Week for hitting .417 with two doubles and two homeruns to go along with five runs scored and four RBI. This award coincided with the Red’s current six-game winning streak, but it was no coincidence. According to Dalrymple, the improved play from the freshmen and rising confidence level resulting from it has been the catalyst for the Red’s current success, exemplified by Edwards’ walk-off three-run homerun in the team’s second game against Ithaca College on Wednesday.

“I think they’ve all improved infinitely from the first day they were here,” Dalrymple said. “I think they’ve learned to play under pressure and come up in big situations, so that now when its bases loaded in the bottom of the inning, they want to be up and they aren’t nervous … They’ve come a long way both physically and in understanding the game because there is a big jump in the mental game … the game just goes a lot quicker. They’ve done a great job to adjust.”

The team has begun to click at the right time, just before the Ivy League playoffs begin. The Red realizes how difficult it will be to achieve a three-peat as Ivy League champions — especially with its core of freshmen — but the squad is confident that if the freshmen keep improving, nothing can stop them.

Original Author: Albert Liao