“It is very difficult to repeat,” head coach Jenny Allard says.
But if the Crimson softball team is going to win its second Ancient Eight title in as many years, there will be a few subtle keys to its success. First, how well the four freshmen are able to fill holes in the lineup will make a huge impact—especially on defense. Second, the leadership abilities of Harvard’s three seniors will determine how prepared this squad is to face the grind of a long 45-game schedule. And lastly, the toughness the Crimson is able to develop from playing in challenging early-season tournaments will establish if the players are able to fight hard enough to get through the unpredictable road that is the Ivy season.
When it arrived at Harvard, the softball class of 2011 was lucky enough to become part of the reigning Ivy League champions.
But if the rookie crew of Caitlin Bowers, Emily Henderson, Ellen Macadam, and Alex Torres wants to help keep the title in Cambridge in 2008, the freshmen are going to need to fill some important holes.
The most notable gaps left in the Harvard line-up after last year’s successful campaign are at second and short, where Lauren Brown ’07 and former captain Julia Kidder ’07 used to preside.
Junior Bailey Vertovez has stepped in at shortstop and Bowers and Macadam have been fighting for the spot at second.
“[Macadam] has a quick release, a strong arm, quick hands,” Allard says.
“Caitlin’s got great hands at second base and is developing her range there,” she says of Bower.
Coach Allard has called on her only senior fielder, first baseman Danielle Kerper, to help Bowers and Macadam get comfortable in the new position.
“They both have pretty positive attitudes,” Kerper says. “If I ask them to do something, they respond very well.”
While Bowers and Macadam practice in the infield, Henderson has emerged as the clear starter in left field.
“She’s the fastest player on the team,” Allard says. “She’s making an impact already.”
The lefty hitter has impressed teammates as well.
“It is great to have a freshman who can read in the outfield,” senior Amanda Watkins says. “She has a really great attitude… I think everyone is really excited for her success and looking forward to what she is going to do during Ivies.”
Utility player Torres will be asked to assist the pitching staff while it rehabs from various injuries.
A quick look over the Harvard roster will reveal that this team is led by a small, three-player corps of seniors, two of whom—Watkins and Shelly Madick—are pitchers, leaving Kerper as the only senior fielder. While Madick is the elected captain, Watkins and Kerper will have to step up and fill leadership roles as well.
In addition to playing first, Kerper will be, in some respects, the field general. In the early part of the season that has meant helping instruct the freshmen at second.
Meanwhile, pitchers Madick and Watkins will have to provide leadership in different ways. Watkins stresses the importance of providing moral support from the sideline, something that Allard believes she already does very well.
“Amanda is a real positive leader,” Allard says. “I think she’s going to keep people up and keep people working…She is kind of the heart and soul of the team in that way.”
Madick though, is the player who will set the pace for the season—as a captain should.
“It is really important that we show poise and determination,” Madick says.
Allard is confident that showing those critical qualities is Madick’s style.
“She is not necessarily going to be behind the scenes and be a rah-rah captain, but she’s the one that’s going to go in there and not have fear and give us a good tone,” Allard says.
TOUGH AS NAILS
The Crimson’s early season record is not what you would expect from a defending champion. After two weekends of play, mighty Harvard is 1-9. But don’t misunderstand this as a sign of vulnerability, as it may be the most important sign of the squad’s toughness.
Playing a host of nationally ranked teams in the early part of the season was Allard’s intention, even at the expense of a more sterling record.
“I haven’t had a schedule like this for several years, because I haven’t had a team that I thought could handle it…could fight and be okay with maybe not coming up with a win, but have enough of a team unit to say ‘Bring it on. I don’t want you to do me any favors,’” Allard says. “This team, I feel, can handle it.”
Harvard will need to be battle-tested when it heads into the Ivy schedule. As all defending champions can attest, that label is enough to get opponents psyched up to play you. With every team in the Ivies ready to bring its best when it plays the Crimson, a repeat—even with a talent-laden squad—is no simple task. Having the right mix of confidence, determination, and fight is crucial.
“When you’re down two runs in the bottom of the seventh and you need this game to clinch a title,” Madick suggests, that will be when the increased resiliency pays off for her team.
“People are jealous of Harvard, especially when you win the year before,” Allard says. “[The target on our back] is there. It’s there. And you know what, it should be there. That’s the expectation. We want that.”
—Staff writer Julia R. Senior can be reached at email@example.com.