PHILADELPHIA - With the turn of the calendar, the Penn softball team nears the start of its 2010 campaign, kicking off the season at the Rebel Spring Games in Kissimmee, Fla. March 7-12.
The Quakers will play ten games down south to get the kinks out before returning to host Saint Joseph's on March 17 -- the first of Penn's demanding 38 games in 46 days schedule. After trips to Monmouth, Lehigh, Villanova, and a home twin bill with La Salle, Penn opens Ivy League play on April 2, welcoming Brown to Warren Field for a doubleheader.
Penn is scheduled to play its 1,000th game in program history this year, entering the season opener with 972 under its belt. As of now, that game will fall on the nightcap of Penn's April 9 doubleheader with Harvard in Cambridge, Mass. In the instance of rainouts leading up to then, the date may change.
After finishing second in the Ivy League South Division last year (15-28-1, 10-10), the Quakers return a strong contingent of players; most notably two-time first-team All-Ivy selection, junior Alisha Prystowsky. Prystowsky led Penn in a number of offensive categories last season, including a .372 batting average, 35 runs scored, 15 doubles, five home runs, and 188 putouts from behind the plate.
Classmate Kelsey Wolfe, also a 2009 first-team Ally-Ivy selection, boasts impressive 2009 stats (.303 BA, 25 RBI) and will be looked to as an offensive spark, as well as solid defender, seeing time at first base and catcher.
Senior co-captain Keiko Uraguchi, a second-team All-Ivy selection, will serve as a threat on the bases, stealing 21 in her career, ten last year. Returning with a perfect 2009 fielding percentage in center, she will serve as a leader in the outfield, joined by less experienced teammates.
In the circle, the Quakers will rely on their many options in juniors Tory Satagaj and Taylor Tieman, sophomores Cailyn Hennessy and Chelsea Ott, and freshman Lindsay Mann.
Ott earned a 3-4 record with a 4.76 ERA last season, seeing time in 16 games, including glimpses of brilliance out of the bullpen. Satagaj has shown the potential to mow down her opponents, striking out 42 in 35 innings last year.
Also returning for the Red and Blue are senior first baseman Susan Miller, juniors Bridget McDugall and Hilary Sheridan, and sophomores Justine Payne and Meg Krasne. They bring experience and depth to the field as role players.
Also adding an incredible amount of depth to the lineup, Penn welcomes nine newcomers to the team, including sophomore transfer from Wellesley College, Elora Daniele. Freshmen Jess Arneson, Brooke Coloma, Liz Madara, Stephanie Caso, Sam Erosa, Jessica Melendez, and Bridget Ellsworth will give Coach Leslie King a number of solid options making the lineup card.
Penn plays its first game of the season Sunday, taking on the University of South Dakota at 9 a.m. followed by Youngstown State at 11 a.m.
During the winter months, Penn Athletics asked Coach King her thoughts on the upcoming season. Below are her responses.
What are your team's goals for the 2010 season?
"Our goal every year is to win the ¬Ivy League title. This year is no different. We have a team heavy in underclassmen, but they are loaded with talent. There are some very experienced teams in the League but we feel like we can compete with and beat anyone on any given day."
Who will be your most competitive opponents this season? What will be the keys to winning those games?
"We have a challenging non-league schedule against the usual regional opponents: Saint Joseph's, Lehigh, Temple, Villanova, etc. All of these teams are strong programs that will provide good preparation for League games. We always are competitive with these teams and will need to be at our best to get the wins. Within the League, '09 champions Cornell returns virtually its entire lineup and will be the team to beat along with perennial powers Princeton and Harvard. Dartmouth was the upstart team last year and looks to be strong again in 2010. Again, it will be a matter of playing well on the day and bringing our best to each and every game."
With four returning All-Ivy selections and eight newcomers, what do you see as the difference between this year's team and past teams that can give Penn softball its first Ivy title since 1981?
"I believe we are bringing in more talent each year and getting better and better. That talent gives us a chance. One big key for us will be the leadership of the returners. If they can show the way, the newcomers have the ability to perform at a very high level and win some ball games."
What kind of off season work has the team done to improve their skills and to prepare for the grueling pace of the season (~48 games in ~55 days)?
"This team has worked as hard or harder on its conditioning than any team we have had here at Penn. They have dedicated themselves to getting in the best shape possible to handle the rigors of our schedule. Out of those physical workouts grows mental toughness that will carry us through periods of pressure and fatigue."
What do you enjoy most about coaching at Penn?
"I feel privileged to work with such bright and talented young women. I get to coach the sport I love and work with what I consider to be the "cream of the crop" of student-athletes. They have infinite potential and possibilities ahead of them - that is very exciting to be a part of!"