After a playoff hiatus last season, the softball team is eager to get back into postseason contention.
The growing pains were tough for head coach Jenna Olem’s club in 2016. One year after posting a 15-5 regular-season record and earning a spot in the Division 1 quarterfinals, W-H entered a state of rebuild, with the departure of many core pieces. Eight of the Panthers 12 losses came when they were tied or held a lead heading into the second inning. The fourth-year skipper is confident her club, which returns nine players, has learned from its mistakes.
“Last year we struggled defensively,” Olem said. “We made a lot of errors. We also did a poor job closing out games. This season our experience going through what we went through last year and not being able to finish is the main focus.”
Leading the team this spring will be senior captains Kristin Arthur, Kelly Burke, Emily Cook and Sarah Saccardo. Cook and Saccardo (2016 Patriot League Keenan Division All-Star) have started every game at the varsity level since their freshman season, Arthur is a three-year starter and Burke is W-H’s top home run threat.
On the mound, W-H will be led by 2016 team MVP and Patriot League Keenan Division All-Star, junior Colleen Hughes.
“She pitched for us, played center [field] and second [base],” Olem said. “This year she looks to be this team’s ace after spot starting last year. She is long and athletic and has a natural downward motion on the ball so it’s tough for hitters to make really good contact on her when she can locate.”
Cook, who toed the rubber in the Panthers’ 4-1 first-round win against Bridgewater-Raynham in 2015, will play a significant role on the bump as well.
When she’s not on the mound, Cook will start at shortstop, senior Kelly Burke will man first base duties, sophomore Kayla Crawford will play second and junior Hailey Norris will start at the hot corner with Arthur returning behind the plate.
In the outfield, Saccardo anchors the group in centerfield, classmates Julia Donavan and Julia Pendrak roam left and right, respectively.
Olem said she believes her club has the potential to turn what was a weakness last season into a strength this spring.
“We moved Cook to shortstop and she has such great instincts and confidence over there, and Saccardo to centerfield which plays to her strengths of getting to every ball and has a very strong arm,” Olem explained. “So, with those two and Arthur, who is a very strong catcher behind the plate, we are solid up the middle.”
W-H will be back on the field Thursday, April 6, at 4 p.m. as it plays host to North Quincy.
“I think you’ll see a team ready to redeem themselves from last year’s subpar season,” Olem said. “[Our retuning players] all came into the season a better player than they were last year. They are a team that is ready to get back to their winning ways from a few years ago.”