The UMass Lowell softball team is looking to make the most of its fourth and final year of what has been a long and difficult Division I transition process. Head Coach Danielle Henderson, who is excited for the team to build on a successful fall ball slate, and the River Hawks open the new season on Friday, February 10 at North Texas.
“I’ve been really excited this whole year since the team came back to campus,” said Henderson. “They came back with a new energy and they’ve been bonding great. Towards the end of the fall, we could see all their hard work finally starting to pay off. They’re working hard in everything they do - in the classroom, in the weight room and at practice every single day. We’re all excited to start the season because this team has something really special.”
The squad is coming off of an 11-39 campaign from a season ago. However, it was not a question of being competitive, as 14 of those losses were decided by just two runs or less.
“We had a lot of really close games last year. I think everybody could see that we were playing well, but we just couldn’t close the door and get the win,” commented Henderson. “I think a lot of the mental training that we’re doing this year and the team’s approach to practice every day is going to be what gets us to that next step.”
Coach Henderson explained that in looking ahead at their major goals for the year, the squad is trying to not only think in terms of wins and losses, but in other less tangible ways, as well.
“We’ve been working with a sport psychologist, who helped us lay out our goals, and it’s all about keeping our team culture and values. Achieving that every day is something that we’re striving for on and off the field. If we can keep that in place, then the rest will take care of itself."
This season, senior Alyssa Hasbrouck (Middletown, N.Y.) and junior Samantha McQueen (Ewing, N.J.) have been named team captains.
Last year, McQueen started every game in center field for the River Hawks, boasting a .961 fielding percentage. She finished 2016 tied for second on the squad with 16 RBI, as well.
Hasbrouck, who started 22 of 29 games played, tallied a personal-best two home runs during her junior campaign. However, Coach is seeing widespread leadership and accountability from many members of the team.
“I see different leadership all the time,” stated Henderson. “I’m seeing our upperclassmen really looking out for our underclassmen. Everyone from our sophomores to our juniors to our seniors are really stepping up to do their part to be great teammates. I’ve never seen so much leadership from so many people.”
The River Hawks are returning all of their starters from a season ago, including the team’s top hitter in 2016, senior Tori Alcorn (Lowell, Mass.). Alcorn batted .336 in 50 games as a junior, boasting three home runs, 28 walks, 16 stolen bases and a .453 on-base percentage to pace the squad.
Sophomore Sydney Barker (Upland, Calif.) and senior Alisha Welch (Langley, British Columbia) will also look to help the team offensively once again, after turning in .292 and .255 batting averages, respectively, last year.
Welch led the River Hawks in 2016 with 18 RBI, while Barker totaled a team-high nine doubles.
“At the plate, we ended the fall with a lot of hot bats, so it’s hard to pick out anyone individually,” said Henderson. “It’s the best I’ve seen our offense. It was like hitting was contagious. We just kept going through the lineup and people kept getting hits, so I’m hoping that carries over into the season.”
In the circle, UMass Lowell also returns all three starting pitchers in senior Lauren Ramirez (Dracut, Mass.), and sophomores Kaysee Talcik (Shleton, Conn.) and Sydney Wash (Suffolk, Va.). Talcik and Wash each picked up five wins last season, while Wash totaled 66 strikeouts.
“I feel like this is the best I’ve seen Lauren Ramirez look," commented Henderson. "She is out there with a lot of confidence and she has more command of her pitches. She had a great fall."
"Kasey Talcik and Sydney Wash did a great job as freshmen, so I think they'll be even stronger this year after getting rid of those rookie jitters and nerves, and being out there with a little more confidence," added Henderson. "All we need is for all of them to be able to complement each other. We want to try use everybody and rotate them through so we can try and keep the opponents off balance."
“The freshmen are all great athletes and they just want to learn. They’re eager to learn and help their team. Their attitude is whatever it takes to help our team. They’ll go anywhere or play anywhere, and I think that is a big help. They just want to play and when you have that, I think it makes everyone else step their game up too."
The River Hawks will play a 42-game slate in 2017. The team will once again take part in four early-season tournaments, beginning at the University of North Texas on Feb. 10-12. Later in February, UMass Lowell will also travel to Alabama for the first time ever to take part in the Tiger Invitational, squaring off against four different teams, including host and 2016 national runner-up, No. 2 Auburn. The River Hawks then conclude their tournament season by spending spring break in the Carolinas at the Holy City Showdown (March 10-12) and the UNCW Invitational (March 17-19).
“I’m looking forward to seeing how well we can complete,” commented Henderson. “I think it’ll be tough, we play two SEC teams and a few Top 25 teams. I hope what we see from this is that the team goes out and plays fearless, and that they don’t let any name intimidate them. I think if we can learn to do that, then we are going to come back to conference play stronger.”
The River Hawks finally make their first of seven appearances at River View Field when they host Rhode Island for a non-conference twin bill on April 5. Those games are the first of seven in a row at home, with America East opponents UAlbany (April 8-9) and Maine (April 12) also coming to Lowell during the squad's longest homestand of the season.
“Everything I’m seeing from our team, I feel like we’re going to stack up pretty good in conference play,” said Henderson. “I like what I see defensively. I think we’re going to make some great plays. I like what we’re seeing at the plate. I know from my end, it’s going to be very hard to come up with a lineup. There are a lot of people fighting for a spot and we want the best 10 people out there. I’m already struggling trying to decide who that’s going to be. I’m hoping that helps us stack up with all the other teams in the league.”
Although Coach Henderson still sees a lot of positive question marks heading into the new year, one thing is for sure.
“There’s just something different about this whole team, and every little thing that they’re doing,” she concluded. “Every little thing they do, they just have so much pride in it and they want to be the best in it. They’re supporting each other in the whole process. It’s special.”