It’s the most wonderful time of the year for a select group of women at Mount St. Joseph University. That’s right--softball season is finally upon us. The Lions enter this year’s campaign fresh off a 20-win season a year ago. The ladies hope to build off of last year’s magical season that saw them climb to the top of the Heartland Collegiate Athletic Conference before injuries plagued the team late in the season.
Like most great collegiate teams, last year’s squad was headed by a strong senior class. With the graduation of many key players come inexperience and growing pains ahead for this season. Fortunately, Coach Beth Goderwis enters her 16th season as the Lions’s head coach, so she knows a thing or two about recruiting.
The team’s faithful leader spent her offseason sweeping the ballfields of America in search of young talent that could return her team to the top of the conference. Through her experiences, she has learned that recruiting takes more than just convincing the best athletes around to come to the university and play softball. As Goderwis told me, “We want talented kids but we also want kids that can work together and build strong chemistry.”
Her efforts were enough to land her an exceptional freshman class of seven. All of these freshmen are expected to have an immediate impact, but one has stepped into an especially key role early in the season. Freshman Sarah Miller from Fishers, Ind., has already emerged as one of the team’s better pitchers. Heading into Spring Break, Miller was already leading the team in nearly every pitching statistic.
Unfortunately, replacing a strong graduating class is just one of the challenges this team has faced in the offseason. The Lions currently have 13 players--seven freshmen and six juniors. The team was expecting to enter the season with one senior, their ace pitcher. As Goderwis told me, “(She) would have been our senior pitcher this year but she was hit in the face last year. After having two surgeries, she was unable to come back this season.” Goderwis went on to say, “She was a really, really good pitcher so we will miss that depth and experience but I think Bri (Kauf) and the other players will step up.” Due to the sensitivity of the subject, nothing would be accomplished by naming this player, but it goes without saying that her presence will be missed on the field and in the dugout.
Without any active seniors on the roster, the ladies have implemented a mentor program for the juniors to aid the freshmen in the transition to college and college softball. As Goderwis described the program, “We have six juniors, so we’ve given each of our upper-classmen a freshman to mentor. We have three junior captains: Bri Kauf, Liv Quick, and Katie Tarter, but we expect all six juniors to lead the team and help our freshmen get acclimated to college softball.” Each of us who has had the opportunity to play a collegiate sport understands that with that opportunity comes great responsibility. The implementation of this program early in the year should guide these young women through that difficult transition and make the team as a whole stronger.
As if losing the team’s star pitcher and only senior didn’t cause enough heartache, injuries have also continued to plague the team. During the fall, a key player sustained a concussion that required her to withdraw from the university. Out of respect for this player’s medical condition and privacy, it’s best if she also remains unnamed, but she would have been one of the team’s stronger offensive players this season.
In this player’s absence, the ladies have struggled to get things going offensively thus far. However, one of the bright spots on offense has been sophomore Savannah Sturgill, from West Harrison, Ind. Last season was Sturgill’s first as a Lion after she transferred from Division 2 Urbana University. In her freshman campaign, Sturgill led all returning players in Batting Average, Home Runs, and RBIs. Her inaugural performance was strong enough to earn her First-Team All-HCAC.
Even with Sturgill’s stellar performance, the team is much more seasoned defensively and on the mound than they are at the plate. As Goderwis put it, “I’m very confident that our offense is going to come around but our defense has kept us in the games so far.” In addition to the freshman Sarah Miller, who has raised some eyebrows early on, Goderwis says, “Bri (Kauf), our junior pitcher, is throwing the ball really well.”
The team as a whole has shown great promise in the early weeks of the season. Unfortunately, the key to the ladies’ success this year is in large part, out of their control. The team’s skipper believes that “as long as we stay healthy, we will be fine. If we get any injuries, we’ll struggle a little bit but we’ve got people who can step up and into those positions. We just hope that our pitchers stay healthy.”
Barring any more major injuries, the Mount St. Joseph University softball team is primed for greatness for years to come. With strong junior leaders and an exceptional freshman class, this team should become a regular contender for the highly competitive HCAC softball championship. As Goderwis told me, “Once we get that offense clicking, we’re going to be pretty tough to beat.”