Accomplish Goals, Sharpen the Focus

Sunday, April 27, 2014 – La Salle University / Philadelphia, PA (A10 REGULAR SEASON CHAMPS)

Before the start of every season, it is a Fordham Softball tradition to write down each goal we have collectively and individually. We girls sit in a circle with our coaches at the helm, and spend roughly an hour discussing our expectations and hopes, both small and lofty, for the upcoming months of the season. This year, one of our many collective goals, as it is every season, was to win both the Atlantic 10 regular season and tournament championships. Despite the fact that we won the tournament last year, we did not win the regular season, finishing second behind St. Joe’s.

We were able to cross this goal off of our list on Saturday, as we swept La Salle behind two dominating offensive performances to clinch the regular season title with one week still remaining in the regular season. No matter what happens when we play Dayton next weekend, we will possess the number one seed and receive a first round bye for the A10 tournament at our home field in the Bronx in ten days.

The team posing with our “championship cheese steaks.” Our coaches took us out for Philly cheese steaks after sweeping LaSalle to clinch the Atlantic 10 regular season title.

Despite the distinct honor we are afforded as the regular season Atlantic 10 champions, rings are not won in the regular season. It is of the utmost importance for us to acknowledge this now.

My Dad frequently tells me that one of the most important factors for success in softball is to always have a sharpened focus, with the immediate tasks (hitting, fielding, etc.) at the forefront of your thoughts, and the ultimate goals (wins, championships) in the back of your mind. Being able to maintain this focus, which has propelled us to our current 15-game winning streak, will be the key for our success in the upcoming A10 tournament.

While it is great to see us accomplish our team goals, it is also fun to watch each other accomplish individual goals. For instance, my best friend and teammate Elise has emerged as the best player in the Atlantic 10 this season (if not the best player in the entire northeast region). On Saturday, she set the Fordham Softball single-season RBI record with 64, after launching a three-run bomb against LaSalle. She then went on to hit another home run (a grand slam), in the same game, which increased her RBI total to 68. I would be remiss if I forgot to mention the modern day Mantle-Maris home run chase that is now taking place at Rose Hill, as both Elise and our catcher Gabby are pursuing the all-time Fordham Softball career home run record. The record is 45 and they have 42 and 41, respectively. This is really fun stuff to witness, folks.

Winning the regular season is just the first accomplishment of several goals we have for the end of our season. These next ten days before the Atlantic 10 tournament are perhaps the most crucial of all the days this season, as we will need to work towards sharpening our focus in preparation for our toughest battles ahead. We are on the cusp of greatness; I can almost taste it.

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A Bittersweet Softball Symphony

Monday, April 21, 2014 – St. Louis University & University of Massachusetts / Bronx, NY

The team after the senior day ceremony.

The team poses after the senior day ceremony. (Courtesy of Tom Wasiczko)

Amid the 60-game schedule, the practices and workouts, the seemingly endless travel, and everything else that comes with being a Division 1 athlete, I sometimes forget that life won’t always be the way that it is right now, and mostly, that it won’t be forever spent with my teammates. This was poignantly brought to my attention during our senior day ceremony on Saturday. When our seniors (Elise, Gabby, Tina, and Bri) were honored on Bahoshy Field between games of our doubleheader against UMass, I got significantly more emotional than I anticipated getting. I have never been one to handle endings very well, and it certainly showed on Saturday. I cried for the loss of four people who have been staples in my life as a Fordham Softball player, for the end of their almost lifelong softball careers, and at the realization that my time is also nearing, as I and my five other softball classmates are next in line to take the emotional walk across Bahoshy Field on senior day.

Saturday was bittersweet. For all the sadness it brought me, it also reminded me about just how amazing it is that we not only get to travel the country and represent our university while playing the game we love at the highest level, but we are also afforded the opportunity to form incredible relationships with people along the way. People who were strangers to me just a few years ago have become, and will remain, some of the best friends I have ever had in my life. No matter where our lives take us long after the last out is made in our softball careers, we will forever be bonded by Fordham Softball. This, I believe, is the most beautiful thing about college sports.

The second most beautiful thing about college sports, I believe, is when a team is in sync and firing on all cylinders. That, I know from experience, is a thing of beauty to witness and be part of.

Elise and me during an emotional senior day ceremony.

Elise and me during an emotional senior day ceremony. (Courtesy of Tom Wasiczko)

We are in that place right now. Things continued to click for us this past week, as we extended our winning streak to 11 games, and 17 wins in 18 tries. After playing #24 LSU to a 3-3 tie on Tuesday before the game was called due to rain in the fourth inning, we rolled to sweeps of both St. Louis and UMass, two formidable Atlantic 10 opponents. Once again, we displayed resilience and fight, as we came from behind in both series and demonstrated some late-inning heroics to secure our spot atop the conference for yet another week.

As we enter the final stretch of our season, with just six regular season games remaining, we are focused on our collective mission to win another championship and get back to the promised land of the NCAA tournament. Although senior day served as a sad reminder that very few things are permanent in college athletics, it helped me realize that the most important things last forever: the friendships and championships. With the friendships firmly established and in place, I hope more than anything that we can send our seniors out with a championship that will both solidify their legacies, and make the end of their softball careers less bitter and more sweet.

The Comeback Kids with an Emerging “It” Factor

Monday, April 14, 2014 – University of Rhode Island & Binghamton University / Bronx, NY

More than a month ago, before the start of the USF Series, I wrote about how I thought we were on the cusp of a “coming out” weekend after having experienced the toughest tests of our season in Palm Springs and Orlando. The type of weekend I anticipated us having then was one that served as a true display of offensive prowess; One in which we would puff out our chests, knock some balls out of the park, and approach the game with an attitude and a swagger that would make us intimidating to opponents.

Needless to say, I was a bit premature with my estimation, as this type of collective performance did not occur until this past weekend against Binghamton University. But boy, was it worth the wait!

Team dinner at Elise's house before the URI series. (Courtesy of Tom Wasiczko)

Team dinner at Elise’s house before the URI series. (Courtesy of Tom Wasiczko)

After sweeping Rhode Island on Saturday, we returned home to Bahoshy Field to take on the hard-hitting (emphasis on the word “hard”) Bearcats in a doubleheader. After falling behind in the early goings of both games, we battled back and displayed one of our best offensive performances in recent memory in front of our home crowd. We recorded 23 hits and seven home runs (including three from Gabby and two from Elise) on the day, as we defeated Binghamton 10-7 and 10-9 in the twin bill.

Things have really been coming together nicely for us. From top to bottom, we are mashing, pitching well, playing great defense, and most importantly, showing heart, fight, and desire each and every time we step in-between the white lines. We have found our identity: we are the reigning A10 Champion Fordham Rams, the other Bronx Bombers, who play with fire and intensity, and can comeback from any deficit. We have proven this time and time again over the past few weeks. I believe we are beginning to display an “it” factor; the intangible competitive quality that is a combination of confidence and fire, which separates the champions from the rest.

Of course there are still improvements to be made and work to be done, as we still have more than ten games remaining before the tournament, but we are currently playing the best we have all season. We’ve won 13 out of our last 14 games since playing at UVA during spring break. Over that time, we have improved our record to 25-16 and currently stand atop the A10 standings with a conference record of 5-1.

Tomorrow, barring a rainout, we are scheduled to play nationally-ranked LSU. It will be the first time we have played a ranked opponent at home since Alabama, the eventual National Champions, rolled up to Bahoshy in 2012, only to be sent back to SEC country with their last loss of that season. We are in the best position we have been in all year to take on an opponent like the Tigers.

Regardless of what happens tomorrow, we are making a very good case to repeat as A10 Champions in less than a month. If we continue to play like we have been, with that intensity, comeback mentality, and aforementioned “it” factor we have shown, the happiest of times will surely be ahead of us in mid-May.

With the Target on Your Back, Learn to Attack

Saturday, April 5, 2014 – Hofstra University & George Mason University / Bronx, NY

This week, we learned that every team in the A10 is going to rise to the occasion to play us. We split with a scrappy George Mason squad in a doubleheader this Saturday at home. Because it was our first home series in-conference, we formally unveiled our 2013 A10 championship banner before the start of the games.

The formal unveiling of our 2013 Atlantic 10 Championship banner at Bahoshy Field. (Courtesy of Tom Wasiczko)

The formal unveiling of our 2013 Atlantic 10 Championship banner at Bahoshy Field. (Courtesy of Tom Wasiczko)

The banner unveiling may have served as more of a curse than a blessing for us, as it appeared to ignite George Mason’s fire, en route to their 3-2 victory over us in game one. We bounced back in game two with a 7-3 win, however, despite trailing 3-0 in the first inning. This showed good resiliency and resolve from our team, as we were able to collectively flush the first game and salvage the doubleheader with a split.

The loss to George Mason was a good lesson for us. It proved that as the defending A10 champions, our conference foes are going to give us their best, even if they are inferior opponents on paper. As the old sports adage goes, “In order to be the best, you have to beat the best,” and since we are currently the standard that the rest of the A10 is trying to reach, we are the game that is circled on their schedules. If we fall asleep on anyone (like we did with George Mason in game one of the doubleheader), we are susceptible to defeat. I think it will be beneficial for us in the long run to realize this now.

Another positive takeaway from the past week was defeating Hofstra for the first time in the regular season in four years. As our head coach Bridget told us after the game, this was a big win for our program. Hofstra is a perennial NCAA tournament team that started the season receiving votes in the USA Today Division I softball polls. Our pitchers and defense were able to hold down a one-run lead for four innings, as we beat them 3-2 on our home field.

With two more mid-week games ahead of us next week against Lehigh and Army, we will prepare for yet another important conference match-up against the Rhode Island Rams in Kingston. We expect every conference series from here on out to be tough, but I know we are up to the task.

Despite the one-run loss to Mason, I still believe we are hot right now. The loss served as a gut check to remind us that we have to show up, both mentally and physically, to every game if we expect to win. Nothing is going to be given to us. If we want to unveil another banner next season, we are going to have to earn every victory, especially in-conference. It is crucial for us to keep in mind that when the target is on your back, you must learn to attack.