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If there’s a weakness on this year’s softball team, it’s hidden pretty deep. Make that really deep. With 22 skilled players on the roster, this year’s Crimson fields one of the most talented teams in recent memory. But it didn’t always look so good.
The softball squad had a big hole to fill with the graduation of first baseman Tiffany Whitton, a 2003 ECAC honorable mention, the 2002 Ivy League Player of the Year, and Harvard’s all-time career and single season home run leader.
Add that loss to the last year’s disappointing 15-26 record (7-7 Ivy) and the team needed to rebound.
After recruiting a freshman class of reliable talent in every aspect of the game, snagging a star transfer player, and harnessing old talent, the 2004 team is full of spunk, skill, and commitment. It’s on a campaign to rebuild the program, and in terms of expectations, the sky is the limit. It’s already off to a 4-5 start against tough non-Ivy League teams.
“This is probably one of the most focused teams I’ve ever had,” head coach Jenny Allard says. “When you have a year that you’re frustrated with and just so inconsistent, you come back the next year really hungry.”
This year, there is hunger at every position, as every starter is backed up by a legitimate challenger.
THE PITCHING STAFF
The force of the infield begins with co-captain and pitcher Kara Brotemarkle, who, after three seasons, already ranks third on Harvard’s all-time strikeout list with 272 and threw her first no-hitter last season against Columbia. Her supporting cast on the mound includes junior Lauren Bettinelli, a reliable utility player at almost any infield position. She was initially pegged as a second baseman and only stormed onto the pitching scene last spring, welcomed with instant success.
“Last year, she says to me, coach, can I try pitching this year?” Allard recalls. “And I said sure. It was one of the best ‘sure’ decisions I’ve made.”
In her first season pitching for Harvard, Bettinelli had an ERA of 3.14 and fanned 28 batters in 2003.
Sophomore Michele McAteer also returns for the Crimson after seeing considerable playing time last year, racking up 66 strikeouts with an ERA of 3.74.
Rounding out the pitching staff is freshman Becky Voaklander, who recently started and pitched her first complete game, an 11-2 victory against Liberty.
Behind the plate, junior Notre Dame transfer Annie Dell’Aria has already claimed an important role.
“She’s got it all as a catcher,” Allard says. “She blocks well. She has a great quick release down to second base.”
Dell’Aria’s bat has also made her a powerful force in the batting order, batting in the clean-up spot.
Junior Laura Miller returns to the backstop along with sophomore Erin Halpenny, both of whom have considerable experience with the Crimson.
Freshman Sarah Shaughnessy also hopes to see some time, but she begins the season with an ankle fracture, sitting 4-6 weeks while it heals.
One of the biggest strengths of this year’s infield is up the middle, where senior shortstop Rachel Goldberg and co-captain second baseman Sara Williamson start next to each other for the fourth consecutive year.
“After four years, it’s incredibly comfortable,” Goldberg says. “We constantly banter for seven innings and have a great time together. We communicate well and have a lot of fun.”
Goldberg and Williamson also match up in the batting order, in the top half, allotted to reliable base hitters and power swingers.
In 2003, Goldberg led the team with 7 home runs and was third on the team in hits with 30, helping herself to a .248 batting average. Williamson had the fifth highest batting average with a .265.
Freshmen Lauren Brown and Julia Kidder are close on the heels of the two seniors, ready to fill in at shortstop and second base, respectively, if needed.
“The difference between them is just experience,” Allard says. “We’re giving [Brown and Kidder] time. They’re at that caliber, but because we have some really seasoned players in positions that they play, their time might be more limited or more specialized.”
The natural replacement for the graduated Whitton at first base is junior Cecily Gordon, who has seen quite a bit of playing time in her career despite backing up one of Harvard’s most touted players. In 34 at-bats last season, she had an on base percentage of .351 and should be a force to reckon with this spring. When Gordon isn’t at first, Dell’Aria and Voaklander will move over.
With sophomore Rachel Murray nursing an arm injury, third base was one of the only positions up for grabs this season. Freshman Virginia Fritsch snagged it early with a big bat and strong arm. Halpenny is also expected to see some time at third.
Junior Lauren Stefanchik, the anchor of the outfield, returns to left field. She received first team all Ivy honors last year and is looking to make a similar impact this year.
“For myself, I’m just trying to get on base and get our offense solid,” Stefanchik says. “I want to stay solid in the outfield.”
It’s not just in the outfield where Stefanchik anchors this team. Last season, she led the Ivy League with the most bases stolen and Harvard with the longest hitting streak (14 games) and highest batting average (.389). As the leadoff hitter, she had an on-base percentage of .434.
Joining Stefanchik in the outfield is sophomore Kerry Flaherty, a centerfielder who moved over from right. In an off-season of change, Flaherty also switched to “slapping” from the left side of the plate instead of power hitting from the right side.
Returning to the Crimson is senior Monica Montijo, who is also changing things up with a move to right field from her old position of catcher.
“Originally, we were going to put her back behind the plate,” Allard says. “But we felt we needed someone really aggressive in right field, and we didn’t think her body could hold up with the catching.”
Sophomore Pilar Adams, freshman Susie Winkeller, Brown, and Kidder are also expected to make an impact from the outfield. Sophomore Cara Woodard is sidelined with a torn ACL but is hoping to make a late season return.
If this year’s team is going to improve from last year’s disappointment, the depth of the roster will play a major role in the campaign. With legitimate challengers at every position, the hunger of each player that will determine where this team ends up.
—Staff writer Carrie H. Petri can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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