Rice, Rock softball excited to take their cuts

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Masking up is not going to stop the Slippery Rock women’s softball team from handling requirements and stepping onto the field next week.

As the team gears up to take a swing at their first pitch in nearly a year, head coach Stacey Rice said she is excited to return to play next week. Their season abruptly ended in Florida around this time last year.

“For some girls they knew it was earth-shattering and it would be the last time they’d play a softball game,” said Rice.

She added how it also was something these girls handled with grace and understanding, and how they’re all learning to be flexible because of it.

The team also had to become flexible with the players they had, as the school was strict on allowing recruitment visits during the pandemic. With the team being unable to hold walk on tryouts or have students on campus for recruiting in the busy summer season, the process had hit a dead period. Because of this, building a roster and adding new faces to the mix was nearly impossible. For a foreseeable amount of time, the roster may see long-term effects, but Rice says a lot of other universities are in the same boat.

“It will be aggressive and future recruits will find it more challenging,” said Rice.

Although the team hasn’t expanded much at all, they were excited to get back to it when they university gave them the okay. Rice says expectations are lower as this is not business as usual for them. She added how it is a great year to learn.

For senior returner and catcher Leah Vith, the expectation for greatness is still there. Her and grad student and fellow returner Alexa Guglielmino are projected to be huge assets to the team’s success as a whole this year. Vith is the lone senior and was a leader to the team last year. Coach Rice says she is “excited to see her play again this year after all that has been taken away.”

For Guglielmino, the past year has been a challenge. While the pandemic itself was stressful enough, her father lost his battle with brain cancer.

“I see big things from her this season,” said Rice, glad to have her back. “She’s done everything she could, navigating her father’s passing and not playing softball because of the pandemic.”

She’s worked hard and decided to use her extra year of eligibility at SRU to continue playing and making her father proud.

“Very few players will use this extra year since it is a financial decision more so than a decision about wanting to play softball,” says Rice.

This will give Guglielmino the sweet ending she deserves.

Since everyone has had to deal with the requirements surrounding the pandemic, there is not one team going into this season that is more equipped than another. While some private schools may have been able to practice a bit longer, Rice says it is anyone’s game this year.

In preparation for this upcoming season, the team was finally able to return to practices in early February. With no practices in the fall, Rice said it was a slow start; they’re beginning at the foundation and getting things done. The team was mostly excited to be together again, regardless of the masks and mandates they must abide by.

In preseason rankings the girls are sitting at seventh in the PSAC out of ten teams. For Rice, “the rankings don’t mean a lot, nobody has played.” She added how, with this mentality, the women’s team is mostly just looking forward to competing again and having a little sense of normalcy.

Their first matchup of the season will be next Friday, March 5, against Indiana University of Pa. Weather depending, the game will be played at the SRU Softball Complex.

As for the success of the 2021 season, it is all to be determined. Between possible outbreaks affecting teams and umpires, and the uncertainty of the weather, the ultimate goal is to play as many games as possible.

“The girls are so excited and looking forward to playing, no matter what it takes,” Rice said.

This season certainly may be full of many hurdles, but it’s nothing they haven’t already experienced at this point.

“I’ll just be happy to see the girls competing, that’s all I can ask of them to give it all out there,” Rice said.

The team is resilient and is looking forward to a competitive season ahead. After this past year with no game play, Slippery Rock softball is finally back in action.

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