Rice reflects on challenging season

Published by Karl Ludwig, Date: May 2, 2019
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One year ago, SRU head coach Stacey Rice and a stable of experienced seniors led the Slippery Rock University softball team to an overall record of 24-19, 11-9 in the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference. 

In 2019, however, Rice lost seven seniors and faced the test of replacing them with young potential. Unfortunately, The Rock’s full potential was not found this season, as they went on to feel the growing pains of losing several seasoned veterans. 

A year that will be looked back on as a rebuild rather than a reload, the Green and White ultimately took a step back this season and finished this year’s campaign with a record of 18-27 (8-12 PSAC). Sporting a roster of 19 athletes, 13 were either freshmen or sophomores this past season. 

In a highly competitive conference, having the experience of getting through the adversity of being down a run in the final inning, or working out of a jam when the bases are loaded with no outs can often be the difference between a win and a loss.

Being a relatively inexperienced team in an unforgiving conference can rear its ugly head from time to time, as Coach Rice was reminded of a few times throughout the year in key situations.

“One of the big challenges we faced this season was the inability to execute when it came to situational hitting,” Rice said. “Hitting with runners in scoring position, getting that clutch hit to open a game or to win a game in the seventh inning, we just didn’t have this year. We had an offense that could do it, it was just a matter of execution.”

Whether the goal is to win a championship, finishing nine games under .500 after narrowly missing the playoffs the season before can be discouraging.

Although this year’s campaign certainly did not play out the way Coach Rice and her team would have liked, she is hopeful that the team can use this year as a learning experience to build towards a strong season in 2020.

“I would be lying if I said I wasn’t disappointed in our season. When you don’t achieve your goal, it’s frustrating, but we’re young and we’re growing,” Rice said. “We had a very big freshman and sophomore class that,  after a year of having that competitive experience under their belt, we could see a big transition moving into next year. I’m slightly disappointed but incredibly hopeful.”

Even though the team will return 15 of 19 players to its roster next year, Coach Rice will be faced once again with the task of replacing this year’s senior class. 

Even though there were only four seniors on the roster this season, the talented trio of Caitlyn MacKelvey, Megan Brown and Kailey Myers contributed to nearly one-third of the team’s RBIs this season, while Caitlyn MacKelvey (.313) and Megan Brown (.301) boasted the top two batting averages on the team.

With impressive statistics and invaluable leadership, Rice has the highest regard for her seniors, starting with Brown.

“No one is going to replace her,” Rice said. “She is incredibly fast and I haven’t seen anybody with speed quite like hers in a very long time and I think it’ll be a while until I can find somebody in the next couple of years [that can replace her speed]. She’s an incredible athlete.”

Rice stated her appreciation for MacKelvey and Myers before finishing with Andria Copelli, who served as one of the three pitchers on the roster this past season.  

“This was [Mackelvey’s] big year,” Rice said. “She’s another lefty we’re losing in the lineup so it is definitely going to be difficult to replace her. Myers had a power-hitting ability and an ability to play shortstop, and control the infield in that quarterback sense. Copelli was poised on the mound, cool as ice, and that’s hard to find in a pitcher.”

Though the team may have not finished where they would’ve liked this season, there are many reasons for Rice to be excited as she enters her sixth season at the helm of The Rock’s softball program in 2020.

“Everyone at some point in time this season surprised me. The first person that comes to mind for me is Regan Hozak. If she can continue her trajectory, I can only imagine the feats she will be able to conquer,” Rice exclaimed. “I look at what Leah Vith was able to do behind the plate; I do think that she’s going to be a threat next season now that she has a full season under belt. Those are the two that really jump out to me but there are always surprises every season so it’s always fun to see who is going to step up.”

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