By Anna Poulter-Hendrickson
Special to GoHolyCross.com
Holy Cross third year head softball coach Brian Claypool enters the new decade with his eyes on a Patriot League championship. Claypool returns 14 letterwinners from last year's team and welcomes five newcomers. "This season is very nice. We have everyone returning, all of our injuries are healed and we are back at 100 percent," remarks Claypool.
Last season, Claypool led the Crusaders to a 13-34 record, surpassing 2008's 10 wins and chalking up the most Holy Cross victories since the 2003 season. Claypool returns seven starters and five pitchers from last year's team. "We've got a lot of players that have quite a bit of game experience under their belts," notes Claypool. It will be that game experience that takes the Crusaders to the next level, as this could be the year for the Crusaders to make the jump to legitimate contenders for the Patriot League title. "A lot of this year is going to come down to the mental component and if we as a team are mentally ready to make the jump to a serious contender in the league," says Claypool. "We've got as much athletic talent as anybody in the conference."
"Defensively we want to be more aggressive with the lead runner and increase our double play opportunities," says Claypool of this year's infielders. To accomplish that goal, Claypool is going to rely on the talent of his returning infielders. The left side of the infield will feature two veteran starters, senior Mandy Correale (Peabody, Mass.) will guard the line at third base, while junior Tiffany Medwid (Imperial, Pa.) will patrol the middle at short stop. A 46 game starter last season at third base, Correale returns to the hot corner for her third season as a starter, where she has been the cornerstone of the defense. Medwid will continue to lead the defense at the shortstop position where she made 32 starts for the Crusaders last season.
Junior Caitlin Belanger (Fall River, Mass.) is back from injury to lead the Crusaders at second base. Belanger, together with sophomore Camille Trainor (Worcester, Mass.) will patrol the right side of the infield. Belanger and Trainor combined for 19 starts at second base last season. Sophomore Gwen Reimer (Pottsville, Pa.) and newcomer Sam Fregenti (Melville, N.Y.) will handle duties at first base. Last season, Reimer led the Crusaders, playing and starting in all 47 games at first base. Rookies Amanda Yamaguchi (Lincroft, N.J.) and Kat Rosenthal (Boston, Mass.) will add to the defensive depth of the Crusaders on the infield.
The backstop of the Crusader's defense will be handled by senior Courtney Nealon (Rochester, N.Y.), sophomore Nicole Rau (North Clarendon, Vt.) and newcomer Alex Campione (Townsend, Mass.). The trio will work behind the plate to lead the defense and throw out runners. "We stole over one hundred bases last season," recalls Claypool. "If we can keep our same aggressiveness on the offensive side and apply that same approach on the defensive side we will have a distinct advantage."
"The outfield is very important to us this year," remarks Claypool. "We want more consistency out of them and we are giving them more freedom to promote aggressive play." To do that Claypool is going to rely on a pair of All-League outfielders, juniors Keeley Seniuk (Phoenix, Ariz.) and Erin Fleming (Townsend, Mass.), to lead the Crusaders on the grass. Seniuk returns as the top Crusader in the field and at the plate, as she finished the 2009 season with a .319 batting average and made 46 starts in the outfield, seven in left field and 39 in center. Fleming will continue to stick by Seniuk's side as last season she made 16 starts in left, seven in center and one in right. Together the tandem will cover a lot of ground for the Crusaders.
Joining Seniuk and Fleming in the outfield will be senior Elizabeth Foley (Charlton, Mass.), senior Amanda Audette (New Bedford, Mass.) and sophomore Nicole Ortiz (Whittier, Calif.). The trio made 55 starts on the grass last season, with Foley making 14 starts in left field and 16 in right field. The outfield will be able to use the team's trip to Florida to work on its aggressive play. "In Florida we get a lot more live feedback in the outfield with the live action and sunshine," said Claypool. Claypool will use the spring trip to work the outfield, try out different lineups and implement the new aggressive style of play.
Holy Cross returns an experienced pitching staff to this year's squad, as five Crusaders with Patriot League game experience return to the mound. Audette returns to lead the Crusaders as last year she started in 20 games, making 22 appearances. "I am looking for good conference numbers out of Audette and a little more now that she is the senior person on the staff," said Claypool. Audette finished fourth in the Patriot League with a 2.79 ERA in league play, pitching in 62-2/3 innings and allowing 25 earned runs. Also returning to the mound will be Belanger who was sidelined with an injury after just seven starts. Although her time in the circle was cut short, Belanger tied Audette with a team leading four wins and finished the season with a team leading 2.86 ERA. "We have a healthy Belanger back. Her velocity and spins are looking great and she will help take some of the work load off of Audette."
Success for the Crusaders won't happen without the strength of the entire pitching staff. Junior Katie Alexander (Tigard, Ore.), senior Melissa Pivonka (Tolland, Conn.), Trainor and freshman Jenna Legros (Sandy Hook, Conn.) will give Holy Cross much needed depth to make it through the long season. Alexander led the Crusaders with 23 apperances last season, entering games in critical situations for Holy Cross. Pivonka, still recovering from injury, looks to return to 100 percent and Trainor returns after recording a 3.16 era a year ago. Holy Cross will also look to Legros to find a home in the circle. "This year we have a lot of pitchers that can start in Patriot League play, a lot of pitchers who have had success in the Patriot League," remarked Claypool. "And I am excited to see what Legros can do."
The Crusaders kick off the season at the Rebel Spring Games in Kissimmee, Fla., on March 1. Holy Cross is scheduled to play nine games at the week-long tournament. "It is always tough to go from the gym to the dirt," says Claypool. "We will be playing good teams that are aggressive on the bases and that will be a good test for our defense."
Holy Cross opens the northern portion of its schedule on March 16 with a single game at Bryant before traveling to the Stony Brook Invitational on March 20-21. Holy Cross will meet up with non-conference opponent Boston University on March 27 and then play its 2010 home opener at Freshman Field on March 31 against Hartford.
Holy Cross will kick off Patriot League action on April 3-4, traveling to Bucknell for a four-game series. "It is important to get off on a good start at the beginning of the season. You don't want to put yourself in a situation where you have to win against Lehigh in the last weekend of regular season action," says Claypool. The Crusaders will host Harvard (April 6) before hitting the road for Patriot League play against Colgate (April 10-11). Holy Cross will play host to Siena (April 13), travel to Army for a four-game series (April 17-18), travel to Central Connecticut (April 20) and host Lafayette (April 24-25) and Bryant (April 28) to close out the month of April.
The Crusaders will wrap up regular season Patriot League action at home against Lehigh on May 1-2 and play their last regular season game at Rhode Island (May 4). The Patriot League Tournament will be held on May 13-15 at the site of the regular season champion. The top four teams in the final regular season standings will qualify for the tournament. Holy Cross is looking to return to the Patriot League tournament for the first time since 2003. The Crusaders won the Patriot League title in 1998.