Feb. 25, 2009
By Anna Poulter-Hendrickson
Special to GoHolyCross.com
The Crusaders enter the 2009 season full of promise after closing out the 2008 campaign 10-31 and winning the last two games. The 2008 season was the most successful season of Holy Cross softball since the 2004 season. Holy Cross finished the 2008 season with a team .260 batting average, 67 points higher than in 2007, won five Patriot League games and will return seven starters; all key elements in achieving this season's goal of making the Patriot League Tournament. "Last season we laid the foundation, this year we will refine our technique and skills and become more prepared for specific game situations," says head coach Brian Claypool.
Leading the Crusaders on the dirt will be junior Mandy Correale (Peabody, Mass.) at third base. "Her hard work and determination has led her to develop into one of the best third basemen in the conference," said Claypool. Correalle was a walk-on at Holy Cross and last season improved her batting average by 100 points. Also stepping into the leadership role on the infield will be sophomore Tiffany Medwid (Imperial, Pa.). Last season, Medwid started 22 games at shortstop for the Crusaders. "Tiffany has matured as a softball player, she is in great physical shape and I am excited to see what she can do out there," remarks Claypool.
On the right side of the infield, senior Natalie Cruz (Manalapan, N.J.) and sophomore Caitlin Belanger (Fall River, Mass.) will share duties at second base. Cruz will have three roles: pitching, second base and designated player, each one depending on the line up. At second base Holy Cross will rely on Cruz's consistent defense and strong arm to lead the infield. When Cruz is not playing second, Belanger will cover defensive duties. Last season, Belanger, when not in the circle, made four starts at short stop for Holy Cross.
Behind the plate Holy Cross will have two returners competing for playing time. In the Patriot League, the Crusaders play four-game series each weekend, making it difficult for one catcher to handle all the duties. Juniors Courtney Nealon (Rochester, N.Y.) and Alyssa Olsen (Shelton, Conn.) will share time calling the pitches. Claypool is looking for a catcher that has solid defense and a strong work ethic. He says "solid defense and a strong work ethic are imperative to the position so that our pitchers can be successful."
Newcomers Nicole Rau (North Clarendon, Vt.), Gwen Reimer (Pottsville, Pa.) and Camille Trainor (Worcester, Mass.) will push the upperclassmen. Claypool plans on utilizing the speed of Reimer and Trainor and expects all three to be physically and mentally prepared for whenever an opportunity arises.
In the outfield, sophomore Keeley Seniuk (Phoenix, Ariz.) will return to lead the Crusaders. Seniuk is looking to build off a solid first year. "She is a consistent fielder, she has a great stick and can drive the ball with power to all fields," comments Claypool. Last season, Seniuk started 40 games in left field and one in center for Holy Cross. Sophomore Erin Fleming (Townsend, Mass.) will be making the shift from infield to outfield to take advantage of her athleticism. "Erin has a great instinct for the game that you can't teach," remarks Claypool.
Holy Cross will see some tough competition at right field. Returners Elizabeth Foley (Charlton, Mass.), Dettey Audette (New Bedford, Mass.) and Sam Lenhardt (Duxbury, Mass.) along with newcomer Nicole Ortiz (Whittier, Calif.) will be working hard to earn the starting job. Last season, Lenhardt made 17 starts in right field, Audette had 10 and Foley had seven.
On the mound, Holy Cross will rely on the experience of Audette and Cruz. "Dettey has made big physical and mental adjustments to her game and is now stronger and more confident as a junior," states Claypool. Fans of Holy Cross can look for Audette to start more games and expand her outings and innings this season. Cruz will continue to bring her intense presence into the circle. "It is her senior year, she is looking to gain more command of her pitch location and take advantage of pitch counts," comments Claypool. Together Audette and Cruz started 33 games in the circle for Holy Cross last season.
Belanger will also be helping with the pitching duties for the Crusaders. "Belanger had a great fall, she is throwing hard and has added pitches," says Claypool. "This will make her more effective this spring."
Also assisting the Crusaders on the mound will be sophomore Katie Alexander (Tigard, Ore.). Last season, Alexander made 20 appearances and had one save for Holy Cross. Junior Melissa Pivonka (Tolland, Conn.) is looking to make a return to the circle. Pivonka returns to the lineup after missing the 2008 season due to injury.
The Crusaders will travel to Kissimmee, Fla. for a twelve-game spring tournament on Mar. 1-7. "The spring trip will help our pitchers build confidence and endurance," says Claypool. "I want the hitters to come out swinging aggressively." Claypool wants the Holy Cross batters to use the games in Florida to set the foundation for the rest of the season.
Holy Cross returns to the Northeast after the spring trip for eight non-conference games, taking on Bryant, Brown, Stony Brook, Quinnipiac, Fairfield and West Hartford. Claypool scheduled these games to help the Crusaders stay fresh. "I don't want to sit around, I want to make sure we are still competing at a high level and maintaining our rhythm from Florida," says Claypool. Holy Cross will use the eight non-conference games to fine tune its game before Patriot League play.
Holy Cross will play the first 12 of the 20 Patriot League games in Worcester at Freshman Field. The Crusaders open up Patriot League action at Freshman Field on Mar. 28-29 against Bucknell. Last season the Crusaders were blanked in the four-game series, losing 6-0, 9-1, 8-0 and 5-3. This season Holy Cross is looking to "show them who we are" states Claypool. "Last season we didn't have a good performance, this year we have to play with a chip on our shoulder and show Bucknell who we are and how far we have come."
The Crusaders stay home and welcome the Red Raiders of Colgate to Freshman Field on Apr. 4-5. Last season, the Crusaders split the 4-game series (L, 3-2, 6-3 & W, 5-1, 12-10) with Colgate and ruined the Raiders hopes of making the Patriot League Tournament. "We ended on a great note last season," states Claypool. "Colgate can always hit, we proved ourselves and now we have to take that confidence and run with it."
The home stand at Freshman Field continues when the Crusaders host the Black Knights from Army on Apr. 11-12. Last season, Holy Cross went 1-3 against the Black Knights and this season it will look to take advantage of the home series to defeat Army. "Against Army we will have to bring our A game," says Claypool. "We played Army to close games last season and were disappointed with the outcome."
Holy Cross will hit the road, traveling to Lafayette on Apr. 18-19. Last season the Crusaders went 0-4 against Lafayette, losing the first two games of the four-game series in extra innings and playing a total of 39 innings in the four-game series. Claypool expects the players to be fired up after last season's outcome. "We want to be on the winning side of the battle, a little bit of extra effort will put us over the top."
The Crusaders complete regular season conference games at Lehigh on Apr. 25-26. Last season, Holy Cross split with Lehigh. "We took two games from Lehigh last season, they will remember that and come at us strong," says Claypool. "This series will be a challenge, it is at the end of the season and a lot could be on the line." If the past is any indication, the last weekend of conference play will determine who gets into the post season tournament and who gets left behind.
The Patriot League Tournament will be held on May 7-9 at the
site of the regular season champion. The top four teams in the
final regular season standings will qualify for the tournament.
Holy Cross is looking to return to the Patriot League tournament
for the first time since 2003. The Crusaders won the Patriot League
title in 1998.