After winning two Ivy League championships in a row, the softball team returns this season to defend its title and attempt to finish off a three-peat. This season presents a new challenge for the Red as last year’s team graduated five starters, resulting in drastic changes to the lineup.
“Our big goal is to win another Ivy League championship,” said sophomore catcher Kristen Towne. “It will be harder to do it this year because of the great graduating class … but we will work hard to get it again.”
The holes that were left in the starting lineup initially forced the Red to begin its season looking for players that could fill in and step up to replace the graduated seniors.
“Our first goal of the season was to find our best lineup on the field,” said senior starting pitcher and tri-captain Elizabeth Dalrymple, a two-time Ivy League Pitcher of the Year. “A lot of things were up in the air earlier in the season and we needed to come together as a team first. We needed to get to know each other in terms of strengths, weaknesses and ranges on the field so that we could mesh on the field.”
To figure out the best possible team to field, the Cornell squad aimed at finding a balance between offense and defense.
“[Coach Blood] stresses playing both sides of the ball,” Dalrymple said. “We need to be able to defend and hit and do the best we can on both sides.”
These position battles were discussed long before the actual softball season began in early March, dating as far back as before official practices in early February. The Red has been working hard since the beginning of the academic year. The team met five times a week in the fall for practice and played four games a weekend in an effort to replicate the flow of the regular season.
“We focused a lot this year on defense because the entire infield graduated last year. There was a lot [of] preseason work trying people at different positions,” Towne said.
After the fall, Cornell focused on implementing individual training twice a week where the coaches and players worked out on their own in the weight room. This component was an integral part of the offseason training, as the players need to be strong physically so that they can be prepared for the grueling schedule that typically includes two doubleheaders over the weekend. The Red played 17 games over Spring Break in the course of a week.
“We work so hard in the offseason all year long so that we can play two months,” Dalrymple said. “We need to be physically ready for everything we will face.”
In early February, the beginning of official practices allowed the Red to play together and build its chemistry, which was especially important because the team has many new faces on the field and in the lineup. Recently though, the group has started to come together. Although the Red started the season 2-4, the games over Spring Break brought Cornell’s record up to 11-11-1.
“At first we had to deal with the unfamiliarity with who we were playing next to, but I think Spring Break came a long way on that,” Dalrymple said.
Another issue with filling the holes in the lineup was the relative inexperience of the younger players on the team. Despite the pressure that may come from what is expected of starters, the younger players have really stepped up this year and have performed at a high level, according to Dalrymple.
“[The younger players] have been great,” she said. “Honestly, they’ve been thrown into different situations and have been playing under a lot of pressure.”
“We knew the rookies had to step up,” Towne said. “We need as much help as we can get … They’ve done a great job and have been really working hard.”
But with these additions comes the risk that the players may not be ready, and the possibility of that inexperience showing up later on in the season.
“We are starting a lot of freshmen,” Towne said. “I think one possible weakness could be the lack of experience of what it takes to go through a whole season.”
In hopes of lessening this potential problem, the more experienced juniors have stepped in as leaders for the freshmen infield, since the tri-captains are composed of senior pitchers Dalrymple and Ali Tomlinson and senior outfielder Marissa Amiraian. The junior infielders felt the need to step in as leaders to help players on the field and directly influence the growth of these young, talented players.
“The junior infielders have been great leaders and role models for [the freshmen],” Dalrymple said. “That dynamic has been special.”
The team also has a lot of depth at each position with some players able to play multiple positions. This has eased playing time issues for the squad and could have an impact down the stretch of the season when injuries tend to be most prevalent.
“The depth has been really special this year,” Dalrymple said. “We have a lot of great fielders and a lot of great hitters. We have people who can pinch run when we need them to and we have a lot of pitchers.”
Included in the great hitting and pitching are Towne and Dalrymple, respectively. With three homeruns and 12 RBIs, Towne was recently named the Ivy League Player of the Week. Towne and Amiraian currently sit in the Top-5 in the Ivies in batting average, while Towne leads the league with 23 RBIs. Dalrymple has been lights out this season, currently holding a 0.75 ERA and a 7-3 record with 95 strikeouts.
“I think our skills are there and our talent is there and our depth is there,” Dalrymple said. “We need to be able to fight and play with heart. As long as we don’t get too down when we struggle, and we play with heart and fight, the rest will fall into place.”
The questions surrounding the Red this season have served as a reminder of the importance of taking things one step at a time.
“We want to win the Ivy League championship, but of course it is a long time away and we are taking it one game at a time until then,” Dalrymple said.