A young core of returning players has the Gator softball team poised to duplicate last year’s early season success, when they won four of their first five games and captured their first ever Best of the West Invitational championship.
SF State returns 11 players from that team, including six sophomores, all of which with the exception of pitcher Jenny Obbema, appeared in at least 20 games last season.
“We’re young and we have some talented freshman and underclassmen,” said head coach Cristina Byrne. “If we come to play the way we know how, we can do great things, we have the ability and we have the talent.”
After a promising start to last season, the Gators hit a mid-season slump, which saw them lose 12 straight games before finishing with a disappointing 22-30 record.
If they are to replicate their early successes, SF State will have to do so without All-CCAA second team pitcher Marisa Ibarra who graduated last year.
“If you were to talk about last year’s team it would start with Marisa,” Byrne said. “She was our ace on the mound, but what we are really going to miss is her mental toughness.”
Without Ibarra, the Gators will look to their young group of pitchers for help.
“(Sophomore) Emily Gibson is really stepping up into that role and she has shown that mentality,” Byrne said. “The freshman have also had a really good fall. Megan Clark beat Fresno State on a two hitter, and Courtney Dunkel has been pitching well too.”
The team will also be without Ashley Huff, who left the team for personal reasons before the season. Huff led the team in at-bats, triples and stolen bases while also being tied for the team lead in hits.
Both players will be missed, but the Gators do return six players who started 33 or more games for the team last year headlined by shortstop Courtney Gravel who was an honorable mention All-CCAA selection.
“It was really nice coming back,” said starting first baseman Missy Andrade. “You don’t realize how much you miss seeing these people everyday.”
With a roster of 12 underclassmen, SF State will lean heavily on their youth in the coming season.
“I had a senior (last year) who I looked up to,” Andrade said. “It’s definitely hard to fill those shoes, you have to figure out who you are but also figure out how to help the team.”
One aspect the team lacks is senior leadership, as SF State enters the year with only two seniors on their roster.
“With so few seniors on the team everyone needs to step up in a leadership role, especially with so many freshman on the team,” said returning sophomore outfielder Chelsea Brent.
The Gators open their season on Feb. 1, when they travel to Turlock, Calif. to play Cal State Dominguez Hills where they will try to repeat as Best of the West Invitational champions.
“It’s a whole new season,” Byrne said. “It’s not about what last year’s team did, or what next year’s team might do, it’s about right now. We can’t look back, rear view mirrors are good for cars but not for us.”