With the addition of a new head coach and players, the Slippery Rock University softball team is ready to make a run at the playoffs.
Former assistant coach Stacey Rice was promoted to the head coaching position in the summer of 2014. Rice was an assistant for SRU from 2012-2014.
SRU was picked to finish fifth in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Western Division this season in the preseason’s coaches poll.
“I believe our team is better than fifth in the PSAC,” Rice said. “It helps encourage our players and it’s good for motivation, but it’s just a number.”
Senior outfielder Alaynna Beers said she’s confident in her team and believes they are better than the fifth place team.
“I definitely think we should have been ranked a little higher, but that’s just motivation for us to prove people wrong,” Beers said. “Our past teams have been strong, but with the variety of players we have this year we are going to have a very solid team. The PSAC better be ready for us.”
The Rock finished last season with an overall record of 16-26 (9-4 home, 4-11 away, 3-9 neutral).
Rice said the team needs to work on situational hitting.
“A lot of the games we lost were one-run games, so it’s being able to produce when we need to produce,” Rice said. “Age is going to help, we’re a lot older this year. I think that experience is gonna help.”
The Rock’s pitching staff will be without its top pitcher from last year, Emily Lobdell, due to graduation.
“We took a very focused approach on our pitching, making sure that we raise that more, because we lost our main starter from last year,” Rice. “We’re trying to mature our younger pitchers quicker so that we don’t run into that again at the end of this season.”
SRU will feature returning players such as junior infielders Katie Kaiser and Ashley Samluk, seniors Beers, Taylor Welch and Haley Sherer and sophomores McKenzie Popatak and Eliza Sykes.
Last season, the Rock’s offense was led by Samluk, who was a First Team All-Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference Western Division selection. Samluk had a batting average of .355 (44-124), tallying 20 runs and 21 RBIs. Samluk also hit a team-high seven home runs.
“I had a pretty successful year last year, and that came with a lot of hard work in and outside of practice, but this game requires a short memory,” Samluk said. Whether that short memory applies to a single game or an entire season, last year’s season should never dictate ones that follow.”
Rice said she hopes Samluk maintains the same level of play from last season.
“I don’t want to put too much pressure on her, because for her to out-do herself from last season is kind of hard to do,” Rice said. “She can maintain and continue what she’s been doing, and encourage her positive influence on other players. If we can get more players playing at her caliber, we’re going to be a much better team.”
Along with Samluk, the Rock’s offense had multiple players with either 30 or over 30 hits last season, including Sykes, Beers, Popatak and Kaiser.
Sykes was second on the team with a batting average of .297 (30-101) with 14 runs and five RBIs. Beers hit .275 (33-120) with 14 runs and nine RBIs. Popatak had a batting average of .265 (30-113) to go along with 10 runs and 23 RBIs. Kaiser had the second most hits on the team with 35. She had a batting average of .263 (35-133) with 14 runs and 13 RBIs.
The Rock’s pitching staff will be led by sophomores Carly DeRose and Sarah Petrash. Last season, DeRose had a record of 6-12, posting an ERA of 5.18. Petrash had a record of 1-1 with an ERA of 4.42.
The Rock will begin its season on Feb. 21 in Raleigh, North Carolina to compete in the Shaw University Softball Challenge. SRU’s first game is against Elizabeth City State University at 11 a.m.