BY MELISSA TORRE
The softball team is anxiously awaiting The Eckerd Softball Tournament on Friday, Feb 5; ready to kick off what appears to be a promising season.
Near the end of the offseason, the Spartans have transitioned to more intense workouts that span five or six days a week. The girls have been focusing on hitting and defense during practices, what Coach Leslie Kanter calls the two most important elements in the game.
“Workouts in the field are becoming more intense because we play in just over two weeks, but the workouts in the weight room get a little less and less intense, because we’ve already gotten our strength, we just need to stay healthy,” says Kanter.
The Spartans have been working nonstop since September to prepare for the upcoming 2016 season. Sophomore outfielder Laurie Kostecka, out with a broken foot, witnessed this firsthand as she watched her teammates from the sidelines during the offseason.
“The team worked really hard this fall, they busted their butts to get into good shape for spring–strength wise, position wise, hitting, fielding they really worked hard this fall,” Kostecka said.
Freshman pitcher Makaleigh Dooley looks to be a promising young impact player this season as she has shown growth in both her overall performance and skill during the off-season. According to Kanter, she has a shot at the starting rotation if she keeps up her current pace.
“Hopefully she’ll continue to grow and be as good as I think she could be,” Kanter said.
“I have seen Dooley grow physically as a pitcher during the off season. She has been pitching three times a week and did very well in our fall games.”
Another player to look out for is sophomore shortstop Sahrina Cortes. During her freshman season, Cortes led the team in stolen bases with a total of seven, earned 10 runs batted in (RBI’s) during the 41-game season, and scored 22 runs, ending the season with a respectable .248 batting average.
“Her work ethic and the amount of extra work she puts in is a key example of how our
team can follow and that will lead us to success,” Kostecka said.
According to Kostecka, the catchers from last season have also set the bar even higher for the team as they have all worked diligently to fill the spot of last year’s staring senior catcher Kandi Kuder. Kuder started in all 41 games last season for the Spartans, and led the team with 47 hits, and she finished the season with .362 batting average.
“We have a lot of catchers and all of them have improved their game in order to help the team by filling in that position,” Kostecka said. “Even though there are a lot of them for only the one position, they really cheer each other on and help each other because they want us to have the best team possible and want to help their fellow catchers as much as they can.”
Looking ahead to this season, the team has embraced the positivity and pressure they have received from last year to fuel their fire, in hopes of making it even further in 2016 to turn their dream of winning the Sunshine State Conference into a reality.
The Spartans recently slotted in at second in the 2016 Sunshine State Conference preseason softball coaches poll, only behind long-time rival Saint Leo.
While they may be favored in this season’s conference play, the team is focused on the opening Eckerd Softball Tournament in Clearwater next month. The Spartans are slated to play against strong regional opponents, but Kostecka believes their second game will be important when they face off against Valdosta State, who finished 44-5 last season and topped the south region.
“They’re always a huge game for us, so Valdosta State is really gonna be the big one,” she said.
Last season the team finished with a record of 28-13, with a season-high winning streak of eight games. The season came to a close with the Spartans falling to the University of North Alabama during regionals.
“Our number one goal this season is to win our conference, as it always is, but if we can achieve that we’d love to make it out of regionals,” Kanter said.