To start off their season, Lehigh women’s softball left the Wolfpack Classic on Feb. 20 with two wins against Fairfield and losses to Mount St. Mary’s and North Carolina State.
With disruptions from the pandemic that compromised much of the past two seasons, last weekend’s tournament kicked off the first full season for many players.
Coming off of an 8-9 record in the 2020 season (0-0 in conference) and an 18-16 record in the 2021 season (14-8 in conference), the Mountain Hawks spent this preseason focussing on their mental strength, team-building, versatility and communication skills.
“We could only come together so many times last year, so this year, we really try and focus on every opportunity,” assistant coach Pattie-Ruth Taylor said. “This preseason was really about capitalizing on those opportunities and not taking them for granted.”
Senior pitcher Gabriella Nori, who was named First Team All-Patriot League pitcher last season, said they have grown as a team during preseason, and she looks forward to seeing all their work pay off as they get back on the dirt.
“We’re going to focus on just getting better every game,” Nori said. “We’ve worked a lot on the mental side of the game and making sure everyone’s on the same page.”
Senior outfielder Jaelynn Chesson ranked in the top five nationally for her doubles and runs batted in (RBIs) per game last season. Cheson said a big focus for the team is getting to know each other on a more personal level to foster a better sense of trust on the field.
Head coach Fran Troyan emphasizes this team bonding in his coaching philosophy.
“Even if you have the talent to be one of the best teams in the league, in order to compete and win, it not only takes hard work, but a sense of togetherness,” Troyan said.
Troyan said the team isn’t afraid of hard work, and he’s starting to witness a team-wide unity.
Troyan enters his 27th season as Lehigh softball’s head coach this year. He said if the team wants to take home the Patriot League trophy this season, they will need to truly commit, believe in each other and have selfless attitudes in the process.
The Patriot League will bring on some tough competition this year, but coach Taylor said she believes the toughest opponents will make for the most fun games of the season.
“We want to win the championship, but that is accomplished by what we do day by day,” Nori said. “We will have to succeed as a team and it’s important for everyone to play a part in that.”
Since 2011, Lehigh and Boston University have been the two most competitive teams in the Patriot League.
In total since 2011, Lehigh has won six regular season championships and four Patriot League Championships. Boston University has won five postseason championships and three regular season championships.
Since 2018, excluding the 2020 COVID-19 season, Boston University has won both the regular season and Patriot League Championship each year.
Last season Boston University and Lehigh finished first and second in the regular season and eventually played in the championship game, with Boston University winning 9-2.
Chesson said she and her teammates are eager to compete and hope to hold a winning record against Patriot League rival Boston University.
For Lehigh’s offensive and defensive goals for the season ahead, coach Troyan said the team wants to focus on making all routine plays on the field, maintaining great communication and seeing overall growth in the batter’s box.
“We talked a lot about having a presence at the plate by walking up there being ready to hit and knowing that you can,” senior shortstop Carley Barjaktarovich said. “You aren’t in the box alone, there’s seventeen other players and coaches essentially in that box with you rooting you on.”
Barjaktarovich, who was named both Patriot League Defensive Player and Scholar Athlete of the Year last season, said she knows her pitchers will be throwing strong innings this season, and it will be up to the defense to ensure the outs are made behind them.
“Instead of focusing on the opponents, our coaching staff is trying to persuade the team to focus on us and have Lehigh play at the highest level possible,” Troyan said. “If we can do that, then hopefully the wins and losses will take care of themselves.”
Following last weekend’s Wolfpack Classic, the team will travel to Lynchburg, Virginia, for the Liberty Invitational and take on Liberty University on March 4.