Last season was one to remember for the Harvard softball team. Sweeping Cornell in the Ivy League Championship Series, the Crimson earned its fifth Ancient Eight title. The win also garnered Harvard a bid to the 2011 NCAA Regional tournament for only the fourth time in the program’s illustrious history.
But while matching last year’s success might seem like something to strive for this season, the team is aiming even higher.
“The team’s goal for this season is to go 22-0,” co-captain Rachel Brown said. “We hope to be .750 in preseason and to win Regionals and advance to Super Regionals.”
Last year, the Crimson finished with an 18-2 record in conference play, going 36-14 overall—a new school record for victories in a season. Harvard suffered two consecutive losses in the NCAA tournament and was outscored, 17-0. Although both were difficult losses for the players, Harvard coach Jenny Allard expressed how much motivation they have provided for the team this spring.
“We were really humbled going to regionals [last season], and we realized, ‘Okay, as strong as we were in our conference, there’s a whole other level we need to get to,’” Allard said. “That is what has pushed us this fall.... We want to play at the regional level, and that’s a great benchmark for us to get to.”
The 2010-11 Harvard squad was also honored with multiple league awards. Ten Crimson players were named to the All-Ivy first or second teams, tying the program record. Second baseman Ellen Macadam ’11 was named Ivy League Player of the Year, and third baseman Kasey Lange was the unanimous selection for Rookie of the Year.
Pitcher Rachel Brown also shined last season for the Crimson. The righty from San Diego led the Ancient Eight in strikeouts (299), shutouts (7), wins (21), and opposing batting average (.185). For her efforts, Brown was unanimously selected as the Ivy League Pitcher of the Year.
“[Pitcher of the Year] was a tribute to how the coaches in the league really respect [Brown],” Allard said. “She was an impact player.”
Allard credits Brown’s success to her calm game-day demeanor.
“She’s pretty relaxed and very focused,” Allard said. “Her game plan is knowing her motion, knowing her pitches…. Of all the pitchers I’ve trained…she has been the most in tune to her technique.”
Another key Harvard pitcher is Laura Ricciardone, a sophomore from Humble, Texas. Ricciardone was named to the All-Ivy League Second Team in 2011 and earned a victory in the second and final game of the Ivy League Championship Series against Cornell.
“In Rachel and Laura, we have two of the strongest and best pitchers in the conference,” Allard said. “One pitcher cannot win a conference title…. We have the strength in both of them. The one-two punch of Rachel and Laura is enormous to our success.”
This season, Brown and Ricciardone will need to be dominant once again if the squad wants to repeat last season’s success.
According to Allard, the competition this year in the Ivy League will be much tougher than last season. Allard attributed part of this parity to the strong freshman recruiting classes for all of the schools in the Ancient Eight.
“Coaches are doing a great job of recruiting good players,” Allard explained. “And with the success the Ivy League has had, more players are being attracted to play in [our conference].”
The influx of freshman talent doesn’t faze Brown. Although she acknowledges that this season is sure to be difficult, she believes that the Crimson will be the best team in the Ivy League once again.
“One of our greatest strengths is the depth of our roster,” Brown said. “This team also has a great work ethic, and we have been working hard all summer and fall to put ourselves in the best position possible for the upcoming season.”
Harvard will rely on its five seniors to lead the team to its second consecutive championship, a feat that hasn’t been accomplished in the program since the 2000 and 2001 seasons.
“I think in any successful season, your seniors are very pivotal,” Allard said. “You want them up with the game on the line…. Every year we’ve been successful and won a championship, it’s always come back to having seniors that have stepped up in key situations, so they’re going to be a big factor in the outcome of our year.”
The Crimson will play its season opener on Friday in the South Florida Tournament, and begins Ivy League play on Mar. 30 at Cornell.