In Steady Hands

Been Here Before
Courtesy of Mike Slade

Coach Jenny Allard has overseen rebuilding jobs in the past. After two straight Ivy championships, her young team has a lot to live up to this year.

After helping the Harvard women’s softball team cruise to an 11-1 Ivy mark and a berth in the 2000 NCAA tournament, Crimson coach Jenny Allard was unsure how her 2001 team, a squad ripe with fresh and inexperienced talent, would perform.

“We were starting freshmen,” Allard says. “Everybody in the infield was a freshman pretty much that year.”

With ten rookies on the roster and the loss of major players like shortstop Deborah Abeles ’00, the 2000 Ivy Player of the Year, the season started with few guarantees.

But concerns were quickly answered. Allard led her team to a second straight Ancient Eight title with an 11-3 conference record.

“We had some preseason success and had a really good run,” Allard says. “I think that team overachieved and played above their talent.”

Twelve years later, Allard yet again has a young, inexperienced team this season.

“I think with a young team, the focus is gaining a lot of experience,” Allard says. “Physically, at any one point in time there are only two, three, [at most] four, players in the lineup who were in last year’s game.”

While her team is young, Allard herself does not lack experience. The coach, now in her 19th year with the Crimson, is the longest-serving coach in the Ivy League. As a player at the University of Michigan, she transitioned to pitcher to fill a vacancy during her junior year despite having previously started as a third baseman. She went on to be named Most Outstanding Pitcher by the team.

Discipline and routine prove key to Allard’s success with the game.

“The game’s the same,” Allard says. “The process is the same. You need your pitching, you need good defense, and you need timely hits. That formula is the same no matter whom you’re playing.”

After winning two straight Ivy League championships, this year’s team enters the Ivy season without five graduated seniors, including former starting pitcher Rachel Brown ’12, who was named Ivy League Pitcher of the Year last season.

With their departures, starting roles have been given to sophomores and freshmen.

“The second the seniors graduated, we knew that there were going to be spots open,” sophomore pitcher Gabrielle Ruiz says. “If you’re going to be the best one to fill that spot, you’re going to fill it.”

Ruiz and freshmen Morgan Groom and Jamie Halula have assumed key roles on the mound. The trio has seen the majority of playing time thus far this year.

“The freshmen have stepped up,” Ruiz says. “Coach [Allard] has been great—she treats us all the same. No matter who you are, if you’re the best, you’re going to play. That’s been the idea this year.”

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