By Anna Poulter-Hendrickson
Special to GoHolyCross.com
A solid group of seniors return to lead the Holy Cross softball team in 2011. In his fourth year as head coach, Brian Claypool expects this group of seniors to lead the team to the Patriot League tournament for the first time since 2003. "It is year four and the seniors were freshman when I got here and now we have seen it come full circle," stated Claypool. "They are here to have a great season their last year at Holy Cross. Not only do they want to go out and compete to win games, but they want to leave their legacy on the program."
With 12 letterwinners returning and seven newcomers, this year's squad boasts the depth and experience that has been missing in previous years. The six starters returning to the team from last year's lineup combined for 244 starts in the 2010 season and it is that type of game experience that Claypool knows will lead the team to even greater success in 2011. "We are expecting that all of that game experience turns into confidence when they step out onto the field," remarked Claypool. Claypool knows that the wealth of game experience will pay off. "They have all made their mistakes and we have seen moments of greatness and moments of weakness, but through it all they have matured, their skill sets have improved and they are ready to step out there this year and play confidently and consistently throughout the entire season."
Holy Cross' 14 overall wins and its eight league wins a year ago were the most since the 2003 season when the Crusaders finished with an overall record of 15-28 and went 10-10 in league play and qualified for the Patriot League Tournament. In each of Claypool's previous three seasons, the Crusaders have continued to climb up the win category, adding more victories each year. Claypool expects to see the success on the field continue. "The ultimate goal for this year is to get into the Patriot League Tournament and how ever many wins that takes, so be it," said Claypool. "We need to do what we need to do to get into that tournament."
Strength in numbers is what leads the Holy Cross infield this season. The Crusaders return 45 game starter, senior Tiffany Medwid (Imperial, Pa.) at shortstop, while senior Caitlin Belanger (Fall River, Mass.) and junior Camille Trainor (Worcester, Mass.) combined for 44 starts at second base and junior Gwen Reimer (Pottsville, Pa.) and sophomore Sam Fregenti (Melville, N.Y.) made 45 starts at first. Those numbers add up when Claypool evaluates the infield. "We expect Tiffany to be a leader on the defensive front," stated Claypool. "She has played a ton of innings at shortstop and each year her skill set has improved." The Crusaders' solid play on the right side of the infield will also set the tone for the defense. "The right side of the infield gives us good, strong infield. We have pure athletes and strong arms on the right side of the field."
The graduation of a 45 game starter at third base has presented Claypool with opportunities to work out a new defense on the left side of the infield. Freshman Alex Gustafson (Medford, Mass.) and Trainor have been working hard at the hot corner in practice. "We asked Alex to come in as a freshman and move from shortstop to third base," commented Claypool. "With her strong arm and soft hands we knew she could be a good third baseman, but she has come out and shown that she has the potential to be a great third baseman." Trainor will also spend time at third base for the Crusaders. "We have Camille taking a ton of reps at third, so we have options." Last season, Trainor made 21 starts at second base, two at pitcher and ended the season with appearances in 31 games, proving herself as a versatile player for the Crusaders. "You will see Camille moving between third, second and throwing a couple innings in the circle."
Junior Nicole Rau (North Clarendon, Vt.) returns behind the plate for the Crusaders. Rau, along with freshman Amber Jones (Manorville, N.Y.), will work hard to lead Holy Cross' defensive efforts. Rau made 18 starts behind the dish last season and Claypool looks for her to use that experience to lead the team this season. "Nicole has got a lot of experience and she has really grown in the area of being able to control and manage the game," says Claypool. "She sees things on the field, takes time outs and really runs the defense." Jones will also spend time behind the plate for the Crusaders. "Amber comes from the big travel circuit and has a lot of exposure against national competition." Claypool expects that experience to transition into the collegiate game. "We are looking to see big things from her."
Seniors Keeley Seniuk (Phoenix, Ariz.) and Erin Fleming (Townsend, Mass.) return to lead the Crusaders in the outfield. Last season, Seniuk made 33 starts in left field, while Fleming made 40 starts in center and Claypool will rely on that experience to lead the Crusaders. "Those two can do pretty much anything out there," remarked Claypool. "Once again, as with the entire senior class, neither of them came back this season complacent. Both Keeley and Erin have been All-Patriot League players in their careers and are hungry for more." Seniuk was named second team All-Patriot League as sophomore and junior, while Fleming earned the honor as a freshman.
Junior Nicole Ortiz (Whittier, Calif.) marked 12 starts in right field and seven as a designated player and Claypool expects her to continue to fill both roles. "Nicole is competing for the spot in right field," said Claypool. "She has a great bat and the ability to drive in a lot of runs out there." Ortiz, along with sophomore Kat Rosenthal (Boston, Mass.) and freshmen Kelliner Croushore (Claremont, Calif.), Sarah Free (Claremont, Calif.) and Stephanie Carvalho (Freetown, Mass.) will see time on the grass for the Crusaders.
Belanger returns as the top starter for the Crusaders in the circle after recording 19 starts and an overall record of 8-9 in the 2010 season. "We are counting on her to take charge in the circle and be the game one starter for us," says Claypool. A year ago, Belanger pitched a team-leading 127.2 innings with a team-best 3.67 ERA. "We want Belanger to have the ball. She is going to give us everything in every inning she has and put us in a position to win any game that we play."
Holy Cross also returns senior Katie Alexander (Tigard, Ore.) and sophomore Jenna Legros (Sandy Hook, Conn.) to the mound in 2011. The duo combined for 12 starts last season, averaging over 50 innings a piece and Claypool expects both of them to continue to contribute in the circle this season. "Legros has completely rededicated herself to her training, has come back in great shape and is spinning the ball incredibly well," remarked Claypool. "We are looking for a lot of innings out of her in the circle this year." Alexander will also offer Holy Cross play an important role on the pitching staff. "Katie can give us critical innings at any point in the game." Newcomers Kali Haas (Longmont, Colo.) and Julia Barrett (Gardner, Mass.) will contribute immediately to the success of the team.
Holy Cross will open the season on March 6 at the Rebel Spring Games against Indiana State. The Crusaders will play a total of 12 games against 12 different teams from March 6-12. "We are playing 12 different teams and seven of which we have never played before, so it not only challenges the players to play new teams, but it challenges the coaching staff to prepare for a new team," commented Claypool. Holy Cross will use the exposure to warm weather in Florida to help set the lineup for conference action. "It is going to give us a great opportunity with 12 games in a week to see who is going to be our conference pitching staff."
Holy Cross returns north to play at the Stony Brook Invitational March 19-20 and then will open the season in Worcester at Freshman Field on March 22 with a doubleheader against Central Connecticut State. The Crusaders will travel to play a pair of games against Marist on March 26, before wrapping up the month with a home doubleheader against Rhode Island on March 30.
The month of April will mark the beginning of Patriot League action as the Crusaders open league play on the road at Lafayette on April 2-3. Holy Cross returns to Freshman Field for a six-game home stand, hosting Bryant in a doubleheader on April 5 and welcoming Army for a four-game series on April 9-10. After traveling for two at Harvard on April 12, the Crusaders continue Patriot League action in Worcester on April 16-17 when they play host to Bucknell. A mid-week road doubleheader against Siena on April 21 will set the stage for Holy Cross' final home league games against Colgate on April 23-24. Holy Cross will wrap up action at home with a game against Boston University on April 26.
Holy Cross will close out the month of April with a four-game league series at Lehigh on April 30-May 1 before traveling to Hartford on May 5 for its last regular season doubleheader. The Patriot League tournament will be held on May 12-14 at the site of the regular season champion. The top four teams in the final regular season standings will qualify for the tournament.