This Saturday and Sunday, Harvard softball (8-9, 0-0 Ivy League) is set to open Ivy League play on the road at Penn (9-8, 0-0 Ivy) and Columbia (7-13, 0-0 Ivy). The Crimson looks to bounce back from a 1-6 showing in Hawaii at the Rainbow Wahine Classic as it begins conference play.
“Our team has worked hard to show well for this Ivy season,” sophomore catcher Nicole Nishizawa said. “We aim to compete with confidence, poise, and grit.”
Last season, Harvard faced off against the Lions and Quakers in two doubleheaders. The Crimson emerged victorious against the two Ancient Eight teams in all four conference games, winning by a combined score of 33-15.
Standout players from the contests against Columbia and Penn include sophomore infielder Rhianna Rich, junior outfielder Maddy Kaplan, and sophomore outfielder Kaitlyn Schiffhauer.
Currently, the three players leading the Harvard squad offensively are the very same individuals, Rich, Kaplan, and Schiffhauer, who have batting averages of .417, .368, and .357, respectively. Also strong at the plate, sophomore third baseman Erin Lockhart has already racked up three home runs and 11 RBI after seeing limited action in her freshman year.
The pre-Ancient Eight season has been full of ups and downs for the Crimson. Harvard’s spring season opened on Feb. 24 at the EMU Madeira Beach Invitational. With both an opening and closing loss, the Crimson went 3-2 at the invitational. The pre-conference play continued at the Long Beach State/Fullerton Tournament in California where Harvard went 4-1 with its sole loss coming at the hands of San Diego State University.
At the next tournament, hosted by the University of Hawaii in Honolulu, the Crimson struggled to find its winning form throughout the week.
Harvard fell, 4-3, in a tight opening match on March 14 to the University of Connecticut. The Crimson was then defeated, 7-0, by the University of Hawaii, 3-2 by Marist College, and 8-3 by Purdue University in succession. Afterwards, Harvard claimed its sole victory on the week, 7-3, against the Boilermakers. The team then fell, 10-2, to the University of Hawaii. The Hawaii Invitational ended with a loss to University of Connecticut, 5-4.
Despite the team’s showing at the Hawaii Invitational, the players are confident and ready to bounce back from the bumps in their preseason.
“Our team respects all of our competition, but is also confident in our ability to perform,” Duncan said. “We have continued to work hard as a team, and so I am excited to see the results of our offseason throughout what we expect to be a very successful and competitive season.”
The Crimson’s offensive struggles so far this season have stemmed from a lack of big hits. The team’s slugging percentage through 17 games sits at .330. Out of its 116 total hits, only 22 have gone for extra bases.
Despite a relative lack of offensive firepower, Harvard has still outscored its opponents this season, 66-63. This trend can be attributed to the Crimson’s pitching staff, anchored by senior Taylor Cabe and sophomores Sarah Smith and Katie Duncan. Harvard has a team ERA of 3.26, good for second-best among Ivy League competitors.
The Crimson’s opponents this weekend are off to uneven starts to their seasons, as well. The Lions are currently 7-13 overall, but are faring well at home in New York, N.Y. where the team will be hosting Harvard. Columbia has swept its last two games at home, 9-1 and 5-1, in victories over Monmouth.
The Quakers are also set to be a challenging opponent coming off a two game winning streak against Rider University. Penn has a winning record overall, but thrives even more at home, where it is currently 5-2.
Ahead of Ivy League competition, the Quakers have proven to have a formidable pitching staff, as the squad boasts a 3.17 team ERA heading into this weekend’s games. Having pitched 21 innings of the season, junior Courtney Cuzick headlines the squad with a team-leading 1.67 ERA.
Though Columbia is not as dominant in the circle as Penn, the Lions have a threatening lineup. Led by the Ivy League hits leader, junior shortstop Madison Gott, Columbia has accumulated 15 home runs so far on the season, while no other Ancient Eight team has hit more than eight.
“I’m really looking forward to getting out there and starting Ivy play,” junior outfielder Alexa Altchek said. “Everyone has worked so hard in preseason, so I’m excited to get out there and show what we can do in conference.”
—Contributing writer Kim Arango can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.