The Husson University Eagles may as well stitch big “X’s” or bulls-eyes on their softball jerseys this season.
After going 17-3 to win the North Atlantic Conference regular-season title and 30-12 overall last year, the Eagles won’t be sneaking up on anyone this time around.
If that’s not enough to make a return trip to the top of the NAC’s heap daunting enough, the Eagles will have to do it without five all-conference players and with a youthful roster on which 13 of 15 players are freshman or sophomores.
So why is third-year coach Amanda Davey smiling?
“We have a very young team this year, but we have a lot of talent and I think we have more depth,” she said. “I don’t see us doing poorly despite of our age because the talent is definitely there. It’s going to depend on a couple people stepping up in a leadership role.”
It’s not like Davey is starting from scratch as six players with significant starting experience are back.
The Eagles were picked as the NAC’s top team in a preseason coaches poll.
“It makes it tough because we had such a good season last year and we lost several all-conference players, but I think we’ll be much better off in the long run,” Davey said. “We’re going to learn from our mistakes, and I’m looking for some of the upperclassmen to take some of the pressure off and lead by example.”
Chief among those prospective veteran leaders is junior second baseman Cassie Berry, but Davey is looking for the sophomore class to come of age with leadership, at least by example, from pitchers Caitlin LeBorgne of Scarborough and Nicole Sargent of Sullivan, as well as first baseman Megan Richard, who will also be a relief pitcher, and left fielder Dorothy “Dottie” Cameron.
“We have some people who can lead this team,” Davey said. “I think once we get into game situations, we’ll hopefully have someone take the initiative in a key spot and call timeout, have a huddle, something like that.”
Freshman Rachael Siegfriedt of China (Erskine Academy) will start at catcher and fill a big void left by four-year starter Shawna Bell. Sophomore Diann Ramsey, a sophomore transfer from Otisfield, will be at shortstop after starting there for Pine Manor College last year. Continuing the shuffle up the middle is sophomore Megan Bradstreet of Warren. Husson’s lone natural left-handed hitter is going to center after starting 17 games in left last year.
Third base belongs to freshman Rachel Voicechovski, who Davey says is a vacuum defensively. That leaves right field, where Sarah Risser of Brewer will see time along with fellow freshman Brianna Webster of Belfast. Risser, who can also catch, is learning to bunt as a lefty to give Husson more batting order balance.
“We have a lot of athleticism and versatility in our players and that goes for our lineup as well,” Davey said. “We have a wide range with singles hitters and power hitters, and some who slap and bunt to move people around.”
The Eagles hit .332 as a team last year and Davey sees no reason why offense won’t be a strength again, but defense will be the key to their success as the onus won’t be on pitching.
“I think we’ll be good, pitching-wise,” she said. “They throw decently hard, but they won’t overpower anybody. We want them to throw groundballs and let our defense do the work.”
Despite all the new faces, Davey likes what she sees and says in some ways, the Eagles are ahead of last season’s pace.
The Eagles open their season today with two games in Orlando, Fla. Husson will play 10 games in six days during their Sunshine State swing.
UMPI a hit with New York Times
The baseball program at the University of Maine-Presque Isle was featured Sunday in the New York Times sports section.
The in-depth article by Bill Pennington chronicles the struggles of the Owls program, which plays virtually all of its games on the road because of its location in northern Maine.
The story also points out the commitment of coach Leo Saucier and his student-athletes, most of whom play for the love of the game rather than scholarship money or other perks.
UMPI’s season-opening road trip — via bus — to Virginia was the focus of the article. It pointed out many of the sacrifices made by all involved, including sleeping four to a room and eating on $15 per day, to pursue the sport.
The story also is accompanied by five photographs showing aspects of UMPI’s trip.
The Owls went 0-8 in Virginia and return to action March 21-22 in Boston against Sunrise Conference foe SUNY Canton.
Bird contributor for Emmanuel
Karin Bird, a former standout at Lee Academy, has been a key contributor this season for the Emmanuel College basketball team that is headed for the NCAA Division III National Championship.
The Saints (21-7) will be matched up against perennial regional power and national contender Southern Maine of Gorham in Friday’s first-round tournament game at Amherst, Mass.
Bird, a 5-foot-8 freshman guard from Lee, is Emmanuel’s third-leading scorer at 7.4 points per game. She has played in 26 of the Saints’ 28 games, making five starts, and is shooting a team-best 51 percent from the field and 71 percent from the foul line.
Bird also is averaging 3.0 rebounds and 1.3 assists.
Bird is one of four former Lee Academy classmates who played Division III basketball this season. Aarika Ritchie played at Colby College in Waterville, Amanda Gifford competed for Bates College in Lewiston and Dana Houghton played at Maine Maritime Academy in Castine.