2015 Fordham Softball – Week 8

Sunday, March 8, 2015 – Off Weekend / Bronx, New York

After four consecutive weekends on the road, we Rams were treated to a weekend at Fordham, free of traveling and games. During this time off from playing, we had the opportunity to rest our bodies and minds a bit, reflect on the past four weeks of play, and like always, use our time in the gym and at practice to improve. Check out the highlights from our off weekend:

2015 Fordham Softball – Week 7 / Turning Letdowns into Lessons

Thursday, February 26, 2015 – Citrus Classic / Orlando, Florida

The seniors (minus Serena), after our big upset of #13/11 Minnesota at the Citrus Classic.

The seniors (minus Serena), after our big upset victory over #13/11 Minnesota at the Citrus Classic.

Over the course of a long and taxing season, letdowns are inevitable. A sudden switch in momentum, an instant of complacency, or a momentary lapse in judgment, and things can suddenly go from hunky-dory to dire, and fast.

In a quick-moving game like college softball, in which you blink your eyes and it’s the fifth inning, transient letdowns can often determine the outcomes of games, especially if you fall on your heels and expect victory to happen just by showing up.

Last Saturday in South Carolina, that’s just what happened to us. Over the course of our game against Gardner-Webb, the David to our Goliath, letdown crept up and quickly turned those seven-innings into our most frustrating loss of the season, and later, a week of reflection.

And lengthy our week was; we collectively dealt with cringing could-haves, regretful should-haves, and long conversations with parents, teammates, and coaches alike about what went wrong and how we went from flying high on a five-game winning streak to questioning our team’s ability, in just two hours of bad softball. On top of it all, we had to wait six days to play again, so the bitter taste and painful vestiges of defeat lingered for much longer than we would have liked.

Amid the animated conversations, prognostications about the remainder of our season, and awkward questions from outsiders about how we could possibly lose to a far-inferior team, however, the week-long reflection allowed me to realize that this loss could very well be a blessing in disguise for us; a reminder that in-between the white lines, nothing is guaranteed and no one is invincible, no matter who the opponent is and what the rankings say. While the naysayers may think differently, our loss to Gardner-Webb could be just the kick in the behind we need to ignite our fire going forward, for this weekend in Orlando and in upcoming Atlantic 10 contests in March and April.

Ironically, the tides will turn for us this weekend, and we will become a Gardner-Webb-like team, as we face our toughest competition of the season at the Citrus Classic. While facing two ranked teams in Georgia and Minnesota, and also playing other formidable opponents during our second stay in Florida this season, it is important for us to remember the lesson we learned from our game with Gardner-Webb: Every team is susceptible to letdowns, no matter how good they look on paper. After all, this is a game played by humans, flawed ones, in fact. And like the example Goliath set forth, no one is invincible.

So, once the first pitch is thrown tomorrow in the Wide World of Sports Complex at Disney World, our slate from last weekend will finally be cleaned and we will have the chance to be another team’s source of letdown; the David to someone else’s Goliath.

No matter what happens this weekend, though, I know that the Gardner-Webb loss will pay long-term dividends for us, even if they aren’t visible immediately. And like we’ve experienced several times before, we can right the wrongs of our past losses simply by turning our letdowns into lessons for the future and attacking our opponents like David did, regardless of being the underdog or not.

2015 Fordham Softball – Week 6 / Adjusting to the Cold like the Curve

Thursday, February 19, 2015 – Furman University / Greenville, South Carolina

Our outfielders got a little wet while diving at practice in South Carolina.

Our outfielders got a little wet while diving at practice in South Carolina.

Greenville, South Carolina: Friday, high of 34; low of 10.

The weather application on my iPhone has read these daunting figures for the past five days that I’ve been persistently checking it. Since returning to New York from Florida on Sunday night, I’ve wholeheartedly believed that these numbers on my phone, with imaginary icicles attached to them, were simply mistakes. They must be. Just basic human fallacies put on full display for the Apple community to view; simple errors on the parts of the imperfect weather reporters who must have accidentally conveyed the upcoming weather for Maine, or even Alaska, but definitely not Greenville, South Carolina, where we are headed to play softball this weekend. No shot.

For five days, however, these numbers haven’t budged. On Monday, the high for Friday in Greenville was 34, and on Thursday night, 34 it remains. So, unless some divine miracle brings an unforeseen heatwave to the Eastern seaboard within the next 12 hours, this is our bitter reality. And bitter it will almost certainly be.

But, like adjusting to a pitch or an unfamiliar infield surface, the cold weather is just another variable in a game filled with uncertainty. An added curveball, if you will.

In playing this game at the highest collegiate level, however, we have been seasoned to adapt and adjust constantly. This is a game through which we have learned that frequent adjustments are imperative for success to ensue. A game that has required us to take on chameleon-like personae in order to adapt to the ever-changing circumstances within a seven-inning affair, and on a larger scale, a 60-game season.

So, with our compression shirts, hand warmers, and maroon winter jackets in tow, we are as prepared as we can possibly be for the battles that lie ahead at Furman University; even if these battles involve two adversaries at once: our opponent and the unrelenting cold.

This weekend, softball will provide an even greater test of the mind, body, and will than it usually does for us. One likely to involve some stinging hands, chapped lips, and maybe even a few broken bats. But, one that will make us better in ways that are unknown at the moment.

Perhaps, it will make us more battle-tested for the cold, Bronx match-ups ahead in late-March and early-April. Or maybe, it will give us something to pull from the memory bank to provide us with strength when games get long and tough in the future. Or maybe, it will just be a good story to tell. Vis-à-vis a ‘we-walked-nine-miles-barefoot-in-the-snow’ type. But rather, ours will be a ‘we-played-a-warm-weather-sport-in-below-freezing-temperatures’ tale. Something along those lines.

Regardless of what the lesson to be learned this weekend is, something tells me that winning will make 34 feel like 64 pretty quickly, especially on this team.

So, let’s brave the elements and play some ball. And no, I don’t mean snowball.

2015 Fordham Softball – Week 5 / Playing the Game Like Prisoners Set Free

Thursday, February 12, 2015 – University of South Florida / Tampa, Florida

We enjoyed some beautiful weather and scenery on the campus of USF.

We enjoyed some beautiful weather and scenery on the campus of USF.

It’s funny where writing inspiration comes from sometimes. For me, it’s usually through circumstances and conversations, even transitory thoughts or words that unintentionally pop into my mind. Today, it came from the back of a leather airplane seat. A most unlikely place.

For the 40 minutes of idle time during which we were stuck on the runway at LaGuardia Airport aboard our mid-afternoon JetBlue flight, I casually flip-flopped between small talk with those around me and the calming escape of my headphones, in order to ease my anxious anticipation of our impending takeoff. Just before our plane’s wheels circled towards the sky, the familiar sight of a ball field on the small, soundless television screen in front of me naturally caught my eye. Intrigued, my headphones immediately shifted from the inside of my primordial iPod into the armrest connecting me to the previously silenced words from the moving mouths on the screen.

In a matter of minutes, an impressive New York Times Op-Docs video piece took me through the story of the San Quentin Giants – a baseball team unlike any of the ones I had previously been familiar with. It featured prisoners who were afforded the opportunity to play baseball despite their incarceration at the San Quentin Bay Prison in San Francisco. Baseball not only gave these men a physical outlet away from their prison cells, but it also provided them with a mental escape from the confines of their pasts, as well as a way to learn about themselves and cope with their current realities.

I gained a great amount of perspective from watching the Times’ moving seven-minute feature, and of course, thought about how I could apply the San Quentin Giants’ story to ours.

What stuck with me most after viewing the video piece were the prisoners’ beautiful descriptions about how baseball made them feel. One man called the game “a relief.” Another said, “When I am on that field, I am not locked up.”

During a week in which it felt like we were just going through the motions, at practice and otherwise, as we were similarly (though not nearly as drastically) confined to the four walls of the Lombardi Center, these were just the words I needed to hear to be reminded about what a tremendous blessing it is to play this great game every day.

Perhaps things felt differently this week due to a combination of tiredness from school and practice, and the letdown from returning indoors after playing in beautiful Arizona weather. Whatever it might have been, I believe the reality of the 55-game grind ahead hit us collectively, whether consciously or subconsciously, and caused our week to drag a bit.

Oftentimes, the hectic lifestyle of the Division I student-athlete experience causes the actual games themselves to get lumped in with the sometimes stressful undertakings leading up to competition. As a result, it is easy to fall into the trap of feeling overwrought while playing; haunted by looming statistics and a fear of failure.

It is vital for us to remember, this weekend and always, that the practicing, lifting, and long days of classes that turn into late nights of homework are the hard parts of the experience. The games, however, are supposed to be fun; the times when our hard work and God-given abilities are demonstrated. The times when we should experience feelings of relief like the San Quentin Giants did. The times when we should relinquish the stifling grips our minds often have over our bodies, which hinder our physical performances. It’s time for us to play like prisoners set free.

2015 Fordham Softball – Week 4 / Familiar Feelings and Anything But

Thursday, February 5, 2015 – Kajikawa Classic / Tempe, Arizona

Familiarity. It’s what gives one ease about the unknowns that are to come. Familiar faces, experiences, routines, and feelings. All combined, they create an ineffable sense of security in a life, and a sport like softball, that is full of uncertainties.

A sea of clean, white sneakers on the bus to JFK airport, en route to our first tournament of 2015 in Arizona.

A sea of clean, white sneakers on the bus to JFK airport, en route to our first tournament of 2015 in Arizona.

The familiarity of this past day spent sorting through freshly cleaned laundry, packing duffle bags, double-checking lists while boarding a bus en route to JFK airport; Paige in the seat to my right, Michele in front, Serena across the aisle from her. All so familiar. Words about these seating arrangements haven’t been spoken since our first bus ride together three years ago. They are just known to us like the uniforms we wear in games and the cheers we sing from dugouts.

With buds in my ears and a glowing computer screen staring back at me while I am suspended in midair, this night spent on a crowded airplane is also familiar. So familiar, in fact, that in some ways it feels like the season isn’t beginning because it never even stopped. Like we never will stop. Like this is what we have done each week in the past and will continue to do in weeks to come.

In the midst of all this familiarity, however, are feelings I’ve never experienced before. The feeling of knowing that this is the last time for white travel shoes and the claiming of bus seats and the anticipation of the 60 games that are to come. The feeling of knowing that we have the opportunity to leave an unparalleled legacy at Fordham with our third-consecutive Atlantic 10 Conference championship and trip to the NCAA Tournament. The feeling of knowing that I’m more prepared for this season than any of the previous 15 I have endured. These feelings are new, uncomfortable even, but more than anything, exciting.

I promised my dad during winter break that I wouldn’t write this year to foster my nostalgia and cryptic musings about the end of my softball career, but simply to create something long-lasting and document the amazing journey that is to come, regardless of what happens between this first week of February and the end of May.

Serena, Michele, and me at the airport before the start of our last season together.

Serena, Michele, and me at the airport before the start of our last season together.

I’m going to abide by my word, and I’m not going to make this a farewell tour or a weekly requiem for the end of my playing days, but rather a digital scrapbook of words, videos, and pictures to celebrate the journey I’m blessed to experience and the great game I’m fortunate to play.

While I’ll certainly find solace in the familiars I encounter in my fourth and final college softball season, I’m most excited for the unfamiliars that are surely ahead in the upcoming months. And even more than last season, I want to capture and make sense of it all so that none of my now-familiars become fleeting in the future.

As I learned last year, I know that all journeys have their peaks and valleys. I don’t expect this one to be the exception. What I also know, however, is that we are on the verge of doing something extremely special this year. Call me cliché, but I can just feel it.

We have a long way to go before our destiny is discovered, so right now, my sites are solely set on the five games on tap for this weekend at Arizona State. I can’t wait for the feeling of new cleats on top of freshly raked dirt. For old uniforms that feel new again. For unfamiliar surroundings with familiar people. For our softball family to be together again. For our hard work to be put to the test. For the start of the journey we’ve been preparing for since last May. I’m ready for the familiar and unfamiliar to collide this season and enable me to write the final chapter of a story that has been 15 years in the making. I’m ready to make this the best one yet.

2015 Fordham Softball – Week 3

Game week is finally upon us! The last full week of practice is officially done, and we are all beyond excited to get outside and play on some actual dirt and grass. Week Three came with our typical hard work in preparation for the start of play, the Super Bowl, and lots and lots of snow. Through it all, we kept our sites set on Arizona, and of course, shared countless laughs in the process (just watch the video if you don’t believe me). We can’t wait to put our hard work to the test in just a few days! Before then, however, sit back and enjoy the last video before things really get fun:

35 Years Later, Memories Still Fresh for Women’s College Hoops Legend

Former women’s college basketball star Anne Gregory-O’Connell remembers with crystal clear clarity what it was like to be a female college athlete in the late-1970s.

Anne Gregory-O'Connell. (Courtesy of Fordham University)

Anne Gregory-O’Connell. (Courtesy of Fordham University)

“We actually got the men’s hand-me-down warm-ups and we thought we were totally cool because of it,” Gregory-O’Connell recalled. “My coach (Kathy Mosolino) really had to fight to even get us gym time to practice. That was just the way it was.”

The 1980 graduate of Fordham University was women’s college basketball’s all-time leading rebounder from her senior year in 1980 until 2009, when Oklahoma’s Courtney Paris surpassed her career total of 1,999.

Gregory-O’Connell posted remarkable career numbers along with her 1,999 rebounds (2,548 points, 200 blocks, .568 field goal percentage). The 6-foot-1 forward’s electrifying play not only helped her team’s cause on the court, but also forced people to pay attention to women’s college basketball during a time when women’s sports were anything but popular.

When the former hoops star thinks back to her time in the maroon and white, however, she does not dwell on the gender inequities she and her teammates endured, but rather the pride that comes from having laid the groundwork for what now exists for female athletes at Fordham.

“Even though we had to fight for everything we got, I’m proud of having been a part of that pioneer era for women’s sports,” Gregory-O’Connell, a member of Fordham’s second-ever women’s recruiting class to get athletic scholarships, said. “And I’m especially proud to see Fordham Women’s Basketball under Stephanie Gaitley now competing regularly on a national level and getting recognized for their success.”

After having advanced to the last two Atlantic 10 Conference championship games and winning the title last season, Fordham Women’s Basketball has risen out of obscurity and into the national conversation. The Rams have experienced back-to-back 25-win seasons under head coach Stephanie Gaitley, and are poised to contend for another championship this year. The winning tradition that Gaitley’s squad has reestablished in the Bronx reminds Gregory-O’Connell of the last time Fordham women’s hoops was an annual contender: her own playing days.

Gregory-O’Connell’s playing career at Fordham exhibited the most successful four-year run in program history, with the team recording 91 total wins from 1976-80, and winning the 1978 and 1979 Eastern Regional Championships. While becoming Fordham’s all-time leading rebounder, scorer, and blocker during this time, Gregory-O’Connell was not alone in her record-setting success. Her teammate, Mary Hayes, set the assists record, while Kathy Mosolino became Fordham’s winningest women’s basketball coach in school history. All of these records still stand today.

While each season that Gregory-O’Connell donned the Block F was memorable, the board-crashing legend considers her junior season, which saw her team advance to the equivalent of today’s Elite 8, as her favorite.

“We hosted the Regional Tournament at Fordham that year and we beat Long Beach State, who we were not supposed to beat at all,” stated Gregory-O’Connell, now a guidance counselor at Holy Trinity High School in Hicksville, New York. “Then we got to play against Tennessee and Pat Summit and that was just a huge thrill. We gave them a game.”

Gregory-O'Connell after her No. 55 was retired in 2009. (Courtesy of Fordham University)

Gregory-O’Connell after her No. 55 was retired in 2009. (Courtesy of Fordham University)

The Fordham Rams finished their magical 1978-79 season with a 27-7 record and the program’s only-ever Top 25 ranking, with a spot at #19. The ’78-’79 squad still holds six team records to this day, including the program’s highest single-season win total. These indelible marks prove that Gregory-O’Connell and her teammates are still the pride of the Rose Hill Gymnasium, even after nearly four decades.

“We had a really good team, a tremendous coach, excellent chemistry, and a really, really good time,” Gregory-O’Connell recollected.

Gregory-O’Connell became the first female athlete inducted into the Fordham Athletics Hall of Fame in 1986. Her No. 55 jersey is also one of just two permanently on display in the Rose Hill Gymnasium, as it was retired in 2009 alongside Fordham Basketball great Ed Conlin.

While the evidence of Gregory-O’Connell’s tremendous college basketball career now rests primarily in the record books and the rafters of Fordham’s primordial gym, the biggest proof of her supreme experiences on the hardwood is evident in her life.

“The discipline, hard work, and confidence I gained at Fordham followed me after graduation,” Gregory-O’Connell said. “And the friendships I made at that period in my life have been unbelievable and long-lasting since college. We all still get together and reminisce about the old times. It was an experience I truly wouldn’t trade for anything.”

2015 Fordham Softball – Week 2

With Week Two now complete, we Rams are collectively excited to head into the final full-week of indoor practices before our games begin in Arizona. This week, we saw our batters dig in a little more in the box, our pitchers bring the heat in intersquad scrimmages, and our soreness diminish with each passing day in the weight room and at practice. We are working tirelessly in preparation for February 6th, and though we all have room for improvement at this stage in the season, progress is definitely being made. Catch a glimpse of our hard work (and fun) here:

2015 Fordham Softball – Week 1

Week One of Fordham Softball’s 2015 season is in the books! During our first week back from winter break, we Rams got back into the full swing of things, on and off the practice diamond in the Bronx. Amid physical soreness, early mornings, stuffy indoor practices, and the loss of our strength coach, we managed to have a great first week back and make strides in our preparation for the upcoming season. Check out this Week One, behind the scenes look into what it’s like to be a Fordham Softball player:

Aussie Female Cyclists Lose Cycling Australia, Gain Promising Alternative

The athlete and sports fan alike often have a funny way of explaining bad occurrences within the realm of competition. Such pitfalls are commonly attributed to a superstitious phenomenon that transcends space, time, and even sport: the jinx.

That’s why some could make the argument that Union Cycliste Internationale’s (UCI) new president Brian Cookson doomed women’s cycling when he recently named it “the fastest growing section of the sport.” Just three months removed from Cookson’s promising comment, women’s cycling took a devastating hit.

Rochelle Gilmore. (Courtesy of Wayne Taylor/The Age)

Rochelle Gilmore. (Courtesy of Wayne Taylor)

Earlier this month, Cycling Australia (CA) announced that its women’s program would be suspended indefinitely due to budgetary constraints within the organization. CA, which relies on public funding, is a feeder organization dedicated to the development of cyclists that serves as a pathway between amateurism and UCI professional teams in Europe.

Women’s cycling has had a proud tradition in Australia for decades, as several Aussie cyclists including Kathy Watt, Sara Carrigan, and Rachel Neylan have experienced great successes at both the Olympic and World Championship levels. While the Australian men’s development program remains intact, CA’s National Performance Director Kevin Tabotta insists that the removal of the women’s program is “not an issue of gender discrimination.”

Up-and-coming Australian cyclist Chloe Hosking recently denounced the removal of CA’s women’s program in a statement to the Sydney Morning Herald. The 24-year-old, who is currently one of Australia’s best female professional cyclists, believes that CA’s announcement will serve as a detrimental setback for the future of women’s cycling in Australia.

“I think it’s really, really upsetting for the young girls coming through,” Hosking said. “It means that if young riders want to get to Europe, they will have to pursue it themselves.”

Cycling Australia previously sponsored six-week invitational development programs in Europe for a group of promising amateur cyclists. Through the publicly funded program, road riders were exposed to the lifestyles and regimens of professional cyclists, and were also granted a stage on which to earn professional contracts.

Following CA’s announcement, however, former standout cyclist and women’s cycling advocate Rochelle Gilmore, who is currently the owner and manager of the British-based Wiggle Honda professional team, responded with a solution to bridge the gap to professional cycling for Australia’s top-amateurs.

Last week, Gilmore officially introduced her latest creation, the High5 Dream Team, which is a domestic cycling squad comprised of Australia’s eight most-promising amateur female riders. The Dream Team members are Kimberley Wells, Rebecca Wiasak, Jess Mundy, Georgia Baker, Tessa Fabri, Kendelle Hodges, Ellen Skerett, and Sam de Riter.

“(They) are the best that Australia has who aren’t already on pro teams,” Gilmore, a former Commonwealth Games champion, stated.

Gilmore’s girls will make their debut ride at the end of January in Australia’s most prestigious elite women’s competition, the National Road Series. They will be coached by one of the most experienced coaches in the sport in Donna Rae Szalinski, and partake in 10 televised races within Australia during 2015. Gilmore will give her handpicked riders the opportunity to continue what CA started.

“What we’re going to do is create an environment for these athletes where they have the best equipment, the best of everything,” Gilmore said. “These athletes will be supported better than any other domestic-based athletes have been supported before.”

Of the eight High5 Dream Team members, Gilmore plans on sending either five or six of them to Europe on a fully-funded development trip in August. Following the model set forth by CA, Gilmore’s chosen ones will endure a six-week riding-intensive program in preparation for life in the professional cycling circuit.

While CA and Australia’s state cycling institutes have offered to partially support the High5 Dream Team’s financial needs, Gilmore will rely on team partners to help foot most of the bill to support her squad. The High5 Dream Team’s partners have committed to three year deals, and will cover equipment costs, as well as travel and living expenses for the riders.

So, have hope, cycling fans. With Gilmore leading the way for Australian women’s cycling, and a continued push for the development of budding riders being made, don’t expect any sort of jinx to thwart Aussie female cyclists in 2015. Rather, anticipate a breakaway from the pack and a surge towards great success in the future of the sport in the land down under; a reverse of the curse, so to speak, for you superstitious folk.​ That is, at least, if Gilmore has anything to say about it.