By Jamie Reynolds
Special to GoHolyCross.com
The 2012 Holy Cross softball team looks to build on the success of the 2011 season and return to the Patriot League Tournament in back-to-back years for the first time since 2002-2003. The Crusaders return 12 letterwinners from last year's team, each now with postseason experience and a desire to make another run to the tournament. With six new incoming freshmen added to the roster, the team has taken advantage of a relatively mild New England winter and is anxious to get the 2012 season underway.
Head coach Brian Claypool, now in his fifth season, is optimistic about the upcoming campaign. However, with only three seniors, there has been a lot of discussion about the amount of youth on the Holy Cross roster. Claypool explained, "Everybody has been asking me, 'is this a rebuilding year because you're so young?' No, I don't think it is. We have a nucleus of kids that have some postseason experience, and they've kind of fed that hunger down to the younger kids." Claypool continued, "The goal is to be playing a good quality softball at the end of April, keep the injuries to a minimum, position ourselves in the top four, and anything can happen in a three-day double elimination tournament." With 12 combined freshmen and sophomores on the roster, Claypool will depend on a set of tri-captains to use their experience to motivate the team.
The Crusaders captains include seniors Gwen Reimer (Pottsville, Pa.) and Camille Trainor (Worcester, Mass.) and junior Sam Fregenti (Melville, N.Y.) who have played in 345 games with 308 starts combined throughout their careers. Claypool stated, "I couldn't be more happy with the three captains that we have and the ways that each one of them can be a leader but in a different capacity. I think combined that's really what you're looking for in leadership. You have three completely different personalities but great qualities in each one of them and that's going to help us, especially with the younger squad this year."
There are five starters returning to this year's team that combined for 214 starts in 2011, but Claypool expects all his players to step up and fill the void left by the 2011 seniors and continue where they left off. "We lost four all-conference players last year, but one of their major goals was to get this team from where we started four years ago and build this program into somebody who was not only competitive in the Patriot League but also somebody that could contend for a Patriot League title. We had a very good April last year and getting in the tournament for the first time in nine years was a great accomplishment. We maybe weren't as happy with our final result once we got there, but it did set the tone that says Holy Cross can play in the postseason. The kids that have come back have a little bit of a chip on their shoulder, which is a good thing in my opinion." Claypool hopes that desire to return to the Patriot League tournament will rub off quickly on the six newcomers. "I'm really excited with the freshman class we have coming in this year. Six kids, all hard workers, with a number of tools and athleticism that I think will really help us this year." The ultimate goal will be to improve on last season's performance.
The 18 overall wins in 2011 were the most in one season since 1999 when the Crusaders posted 24 wins before falling in the Patriot League championship. Over Claypool's first four seasons, the Crusaders have continually improved their record both overall and in the conference culminating in last year's tournament appearance. The team hopes to continue the upward trend this season and record its first Patriot League tournament victory since 2002.
The Crusaders return 49 game starter Gwen Reimer at first base coming off an offensive season during which she recorded a .322 batting average and career-high .456 slugging percentage. Her coach praised, "Gwen doesn't take repetitions off in practice. If there's a sprint, she sprints it the whole way out. If it's ground balls, she's fundamentally sound every time. In the cage, she's focused and doing her job and that's a great way, especially with how young we are, for the younger kids to watch her and learn from a leader in that atmosphere." On the other side of the diamond, 47 game starting sophomore Alex Gustafson (Medford, Mass.) returns at third base. Gustafson came to Holy Cross as a shortstop but really developed her skills at the hot corner last year as a freshman.
Holy Cross lost their two starting middle infielders who combined for a total 79 starts at second base and short stop. The incoming freshman will play a major role in filling these holes in the infield. Freshmen Ashleigh Vargas (Wakefield, Mass.) and Emma Keough (Rochester, Mass.) will hope to make an immediate impact. "Ashleigh has pop up at the plate and we're excited to see what she's going to be able to do for us this year, but I'm really impressed with her after coming back from some surgery in the summertime and having a strong preseason." Claypool continued to discuss Keough's expectations. "Emma has been swinging the bat as well as anyone on the team and she's growing as an infielder. She'll continue to grow throughout the year but she'll see some shots out there and we'll see what she can do. But we're really excited about how her bats developing." Freshmen Cassie Girvalo (Putnam Valley, N.Y.) and Rebecca Sewell (Bedminster, N.J.) round out the other first-year players who will be competing for playing time in the infield.
Behind the plate, sophomore Amber Jones (Manorville, N.Y.) returns having started 35 games last season but is coming back from offseason surgery. Claypool spoke highly of his second-year catcher, "Amber is just a workhorse and has an amazing pain threshold. She played the whole second half of the season with some seriously problems in her knee but was a great team player toughing it out. Most kids would not have been able to play through that, but she's a gamer, and I think that's one of the highest praises a coach can give a player." With Jones rehabbing, freshman Abigail Lang (Londonderry, N.H.) had the opportunity to show her skills during the fall season. Claypool commented, "Abby had a fantastic fall. As all freshmen do she'll continue to grow at the plate as she sees more at-bats. Defensively we're blessed to have two catchers that just have great arms and can minimize the running game on opposing teams quite a bit. We'll see (Jones and Lang) flip-flop throughout the year to keep them fresh as we head into Patriot League play."
Following a 2010 season in which Sam Fregenti made six starts at first base, she solidified her spot as the designated hitter in 2011 making 48 starts all in the cleanup spot. Fregenti compiled team-highs in home runs (11), slugging percentage (.691) and multiple RBI games (9) while hitting .360 in 139 at-bats. "Sam's statistics speak for themselves. I don't know how many kids in the northeast have OPS (on-base plus slugging) percentages over 1.000 but she's one of the few and she's still only a junior. She'll own several offensive records here by the time she's done," said Claypool of his tri-captain.
Camille Trainor will lead the outfielders in 2012 coming off a season in which she made 22 starts in right field. Claypool has always been impressed with Trainor's ability to be the ultimate utility player, making starts in five different defensive positions last season, but hopes she can remain a constant in right field this year. "With some injuries last year Camille jumped in and did a great job in that right field position. She made the All-Tournament team in the playoffs last season so with the success she's had we're going to theoretically keep her out there right now, pending injuries of course." Fellow senior Nicole Ortiz (Whittier, Calif.) made 15 starts last season and with losing two outfielders to graduation who made a combined 91 starts, Ortiz will be looking to play a more prominent role this season.
Junior Kat Rosenthal (Boston, Mass.) and sophomores Kelliner Croushore (Claremont, Calif.), Sarah Free (Claremont, Calif.) and Stephanie Carvalho (Freetown, Mass.) will all look to fill in and make an impact in the outfield this season. Croushore and Free combined to make 16 starts in all three outfield spots last season and Croushore made 23 appearances off the bench serving as the highest used pinch hitter.
Sophomore Julia Barrett (Gardner, Mass.) and junior Jenna Legros (Sandy Hook, Conn.) return to the circle again in 2012. Barrett will look to take the reigns as the number one pitcher on the staff. Claypool explained, "Julia Barrett has trained all summer and came back in great shape. She threw very well in the fall and we've added a couple twists to her repertoire. We're really excited to see her take over that workload as the number one pitcher coming into this year." Barrett finished the season last year with a 5-5 record, making 14 starts in 20 appearances and striking out 39 batters in 83-1/3 innings. Legros appeared in 15 games making four starts and totaling 30-1/3 innings.
Holy Cross lost two starting pitchers who totaled a combined 207 innings in 51 appearances gathering 104 strikeouts. The Crusaders will also look for incoming freshman Tori Cheske (Thomaston, Conn.) to contribute in the circle in her first season coming off an outstanding high school career totaling 1,085 career strikeouts and being named one of Connecticut's top 25 softball players in 2011.
Holy Cross will open the season on March 4 at the Rebel Spring Games in Kissimmee, Fla. against Detroit. The Crusaders will play a total of 12 games against 11 different teams from March 4-10. "We're really excited to get down to Florida because we've had more time outside already this year than probably any of the previous four years combined," said Claypool. "The chance to be able to see balls in the sun, at height, and deal with wind conditions, especially atop Mount St. James, all benefits us because those are things we've already addressed and don't have to learn by trial and error those first few days down south." Holy Cross will use the warm weather training to prepare for a busy schedule when they return to Worcester. Claypool continued, "Florida is our spring training and we address it as such. We want to get people out there, get some different looks, and see what combinations are going to lead us to our best results in April and Patriot League play. We do a pretty good job of being together as a team and the group is in a good place right now, but down there is where things really sink in and that's what's really exciting about that trip."
Holy Cross returns north to play a doubleheader at Stony Brook on March 17 and one game at Central Connecticut on March 22 before the doubleheader home opener against Marist on March 24 at Freshman Field. The Crusaders then host Rhode Island for a pair of games on March 27 before opening Patriot League play.
The Crusaders will end the month of March and begin the month of April in West Point, N.Y. for a pair of doubleheaders against Army on March 31-April 1. Holy Cross then returns home for a 12-game home stand including two four-game weekend series against Lafayette (April 7-8) and Lehigh (April 14-15) and two mid-week doubleheaders against Hartford (April 12) and Siena (April 17). Following a four-game series at Bucknell (April 21-22), the Crusaders will host Harvard for one game on April 26 before closing out the Patriot League regular season at Colgate on April 28-29.
Holy Cross will end the regular season with a non-conference doubleheader at home against Central Connecticut on May 2. The Patriot League tournament will be held May 10-12 at the site of the regular season champion. The top four teams in the final regular season standings will qualify for the double elimination tournament with two games on Thursday, May 10, three games on Friday, May 11 and the championship on Saturday, May 12. The champion will earn the Patriot League's automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament.