After a long preseason filled with indoor practices, the Lehigh softball team will head into its opening tournament Feb. 24-26.
The Mountain Hawks begin their season with five games at the Citrus Classic in Orlando, Florida.
Because Lehigh does not have an indoor turf facility, the team has been practicing on the track in Rauch Fieldhouse and will be playing on a field for the first time on its opening weekend.
“The first practice that we have on the dirt in Florida is always one of our best because we bring so much energy and are just so excited to be out there,” senior pitcher Christine Campbell said. “That just goes for the whole tournament and starts off the tournament right because we’re always just so excited to be in the sun, on the dirt and actually playing against other teams.”
Over the opening weekend, the Hawks will face off against Morgan State University, Ball State University, Georgia Southern University, Syracuse University and national juggernaut No. 3/4 University of Florida.
“We can’t control who our opponent is, and we can’t control how they’re prepared and their talent level,” coach Fran Troyan said. “In the beginning of the season, we’re not going to get caught up in measuring our success or how the process is coming along in wins and losses. We’re just going to see how we progress as a team.”
Troyan said the team has had a successful preseason. It’s focused on improving fundamentals on both the offense and defense, while also working on communication. Competing against one another and making sure batters are seeing live pitches from Lehigh pitchers has given freshmen and inexperienced players some much needed live play.
“We have a very talented team this year,” senior designated player Vicky Lattanzio said. “I definitely think that with our freshmen class and with players that we already have, we have a pretty good team right now and a lot of competition within the team. The competition is allowing everyone to push each other and want to be the best. We had talent last year, but this year we have such a big emphasis on the team chemistry and the team culture that we wanted to establish, that’s what is going to really drive this team to be successful.”
Campbell said off the field the team has been working on improving its chemistry to play more cohesively once games begin.
“Especially this year, we’ve created a team where we’re all sisters and best friends,” Campbell said. “We’re able to enjoy the best moments and confront each other at the worst, and I think that’s helped us play together and play as one when we’re on the field.”
The Mountain Hawks lost five starters to graduation last year, leaving gaps to fill in the lineup. However, many underclassmen from the roster will be stepping up to fill open roles.
“Up and down the lineup I wouldn’t say we have any true superstars,” Troyan said. “But we’re really pretty strong throughout, just a solid, competitive lineup.”
On the defensive side of the ball, Lehigh boasts a deep pool of pitchers in Campbell, sophomore Emily Sorem and freshman Parker Boyd.
Offensively, Troyan is expecting senior outfielder Ashley Cole and senior designated player Vicky Lattanzio to make an impact at the plate by driving in some of the team’s speedy base runners like junior outfielder Nicole Yozzo and sophomore outfielder Ashley Quidolit Rabago.
Troyan said he also will be expecting freshman outfielder Reva Alderman to jump in and make an impact immediately.
“We have a lot of girls in the freshman and sophomore class that will be having a decent amount of playing time,” Campbell said. “Finding that mesh during the game is going to be a challenge at first.”
The team plays 23 games, including the five in Orlando, before its first Patriot League weekend against Boston University over March 25-26.
“The first round of teams that we play in the beginning of the season are going to be pretty tough,” Lattanzio said” “A lot of them have been on the dirt for about three weeks now, and we’re just getting on the dirt this weekend. But, we’ve made the most of any days we could get outside on the turf here and we’ve had a very good preseason—very strong practices and workouts so I personally think that we’re really going to be ready and hungry.”
Troyan said the team will spend these non-conference games getting more players experience and deepening the roster to prepare for conference and postseason play.
“Our season is a long one, so while we’ve gotten off to a quick start in terms of practices, we have to make sure that we maintain the energy and the intensity throughout the season,” Troyan said. “In the same breath, we have to pace ourselves so that we have gas in the tank at the end of the season so we can finish this thing off.”
The Mountain Hawks’ first game will be Feb. 24 at 11 a.m. against Morgan State.