POTSDAM - SUNY Potsdam softball coach Shannon Dillabough described this years group of softball players that include seven freshman and three other newcomers to the team as refreshing.
Its been fun because theyre enthusiastic, said coach Dillabough, who enters his 10th year at the helm. They want to win and get better. Theyve here for the right reasons. Theyve done everything that Ive asked them for so far.
The energetic and fresh look Bears will be striving to top their all-time wins mark of 13 in a single season. Potsdam set that mark two seasons ago and dipped slightly to 11 wins in 2013.
Early indications are that a positive mindset and effort has already been put in place and these Bears are willing to work.
Theyre more of a group of ball players, said coach Dillabough. They played a lot of travel ball. They want the program to get better. Theyre not selfish. They get out there in the community and help. I think theyre going to grind it out.
The Bears are seeking to become the first in program history to reach the playoffs since softball began in 2001. But coach Dillabough knows there are challenges ahead playing in the SUNYAC conference.
In SUNYAC, its a level of competition that they havent seen yet, he said. Cortland is ranked high. Every game should be a dog fight. The top six get in the playoffs and we are hungry to be the first team to do it. We will have to pitch. We cant walk too many batters. Itll be important to get ahead and be aggressive in the count. Well have to be more fundamentally sound and make plays in the field.
One of coach Dillaboughs areas of focus has been on improving the team fielding where the Bears committed the most errors (74) and sported the worst fielding percentage (.918) in the conference in 2013.
Ive placed a huge focus on making plays that you should make, he said. On every pitch, our players have to know where we are going. We have to be smart and make the right play. I told them that for every doubleheader that we play, we should be more mentally drained than physically drained.
Senior Brittany Thivierge (Schuylerville, N.Y.) is described as a pure hitter and one of the better offensive players on the team. Thivierge hit .260 and drove in 11 runs in 13.
Freshman Erin Murphy (Kingston, N.Y.) gives coach Dillabough a big left-handed bat as an option that can do a lot of damage.
When shes not pitching, senior co-captain Megan Johnson (Heuvelton, N.Y. / ) should receive some starting nods at second base. Johnson hit .262 (16-61) with two home runs, 11 RBI and scored 13 runs in 13.
Two other players could find their way into some starting spots. Sophomore Alexis Lerman (Fayetteville, N.Y.) is a solid fielder with some power in her bat. Lerman, who successfully stole five of six bases last season, has potential to develop into stabilizing the middle infield position.
Freshman Brittany Barr (Ogdensburg, N.Y.) could also vie for playing time as she handles the bat well and hustles hard.
Freshman Jordan Ott (Hilton, N.Y.) will rejoin the softball team after being the ECAC West Rookie of the Year and leading scorer (36 points) on the womens hockey team that reached the postseason.
Her overall athletic ability makes her a logical fit to see a lot of action at a middle infield position where a lot of balls are likely to be hit.
The left-handed batter could potentially see lots of time at the top of the order in the leadoff spot. Possessing good speed, range, arm strength, contact and power hitting, Ott is a multi-tooled player.
This remains an unsettled position battle between three players heading into the season.
Senior Molly McCuin (Winthrop, N.Y.) raised her batting average from .253 in 2012 to .319 (22-69) in 2013.
Sophomore Katie Marsman (Wantagh, N.Y.) has power and can play a lot of different positions. Her .969 fielding percentage (98 chances, 90 putouts, five assists) last season points to Marsmans ability to work the infield. Marsman homered off the first pitch of the season against Lyndon State, but missed 14 games due to illness. Described as a tough competitor, she did well in the fall and now rejoins the team after playing for the womens hockey team.
Senior Shannon Pagliaro (Beacon, N.Y.) can be used in a utility role as she can catch, play third, and second. Dillabough said he never has any reservations about putting her at any of those spots.
Freshman Kelly Becker (Mahopac, N.Y. /) has a lot of travel softball experience and has showcased a nice swing in the lead up to the season. Could make immediate impact at the plate.
Freshman Emily Tremblay (Fort Covington, N.Y.) has shown major strides of improvement since September and has plus speed. Competitive by nature, Tremblay might be an important factor in certain tight game situations.
Junior Rachel Spiker (Grand Island, N.Y.) returns to the diamond after sitting out the past couple of seasons. Spiker has power potential to develop and plenty of travel ball experience.
Sophomore Rachel Grefke (Livonia, Mich. / Clarenceville) is said by coach Dillabough to be a good person to have on the team because of the way that she pushes people to get better while continuing to do whatever she can to start. Ask her to go through a wall and she would do it twice, said coach Dillabough.
Senior co-captain Khalshia White (St. Regis Falls, N.Y.) has shown leadership capabilities and will be vying to be the everyday centerfielder. White has speed (stole three of four in 15 starts last season) power, and experience.
Freshman Noelle Rufa (Helena, N.Y.) is another player with capable speed and potential. She also has been working hard and made great strides since September and is vying to compete for a starting outfield spot.
Freshman Angela Yodis (Duanesburg, N.Y.) has done a nice job in blocking the ball behind the plate and has solid instincts.
This is an area of strength where Pagliaro, Marsman and Thivierge will also see time behind the plate.
Megan Johnson will be looking to anchor the staff. In 2013, Johnson went 4-5 with a 3.40 ERA. She pitched six complete games, allowed 59 hits in 59.2 innings pitching and struck out 35 batters.
Last year was a big year for her, said coach Dillabough. She took it more serious, got into better shape and got much more competitive. She wants to play and that translated into a better year. She pitched hard, got results and did not back down from situations. She took charge and you could tell that she was more positive and confident.
Freshman Brittany Barr has been working hard, and should receive some early chances to pitch during the Florida trip. Barr keeps ball down well, has a natural drop to her fastball and holds a pretty even demeanor.
She stays the course no matter the result, said coach Dillabough. She has impressed me with her attitude and work ethic.
Senior Megan Briner (Corinth, N.Y.) is returning to the field after a two-year hiatus, but has some travel softball experience. She was a walk-on during the fall. She could become the No. 3 pitcher.
Sophomore Carina Chirinko (Fairport, N.Y.) hopefully will see some time on the mound later in the season as she is battling an ankle injury.
The Bears head south to begin the season and will go on a 10-game, six-day road trip to Clermont, Florida, to play in the Dot Richardson Tournament starting on Friday against Rutgers-Camden.
Other opponents in Florida include, Amherst College, Kalamazoo College, Middlebury College, the University of Wisconsin-Whitewater, Williams College, St. Catherines College, University of Wisconsin-Oshkosh, Elmhurst College and Concordia University (Wis.).
Its probably one of the toughest schedules that weve had in a while, said coach Dillabough.
Potsdam returns to New York state and opens their SUNYAC schedule with doubleheaders at Oswego State and SUNY Cortland on March 28-29.
The Bears have scheduled their home opener on April 8 in a doubleheader against Clarkson University at 3 p.m.
Other home dates include doubleheaders on April 15 against St. Lawrence, April 18 against Oneonta, April 19 vs. New Paltz, April 25 vs. Geneseo and April 26 against Brockport.
The SUNYAC Tournament is scheduled to run May 1-3 with locations and times to be announced.