On Thursday night, the Harvard women’s softball team boarded a plane to Orlando, Fla., where they will start their season in the Citrus Classic tournament. All of the teams that the Crimson will face this weekend come from competitive Division I leagues including the ACC, the Big Ten, and the SEC.
While many of the Crimson’s opponents have already started their seasons, Harvard is starting this weekend with a fresh slate. Its hope as a team, though, is to play to the best of its abilities for the entirety of the season.
“So the goal of the team this year is what I think the goal of the team is every year, which is reach our full potential,” junior Katie Duncan said. “What makes each year different is what each and every individual on the team and the group as a unit might need to focus in on in order to grow.”
The Crimson’s first game is against Purdue on Friday at 12:30 p.m. Purdue is coming off an overall record of 20-36 from its 2017 season and a 1-8 record on their current season. The only game that the Boilermakers have won this season is against South Dakota in the Kajikawa Classic in Arizona earlier in February.
On Friday at 3 p.m., the Crimson is set to take on the University of Miami, Ohio, which is 1-4 at this point in the season.
On the second day of the tournament Harvard plays Duke at 3 p.m. and the University of Kentucky at 5:30 p.m. Both teams have impressive records so far. Duke is going into the Citrus Classic with a 6-3 record and one of its players, freshman pitcher Katherine Huey, was named ESPNW’s National Player of the Week after winning two games with 10 strikeouts and recording a 1.167 slugging percentage at the plate against Penn State and Purdue. Kentucky is off to a strong start as well, coming off a five game winning streak, which gives the Wildcats a 5-2 record overall.
The Crimsons’ last game of the weekend, which takes place on 9 a.m. Sunday against the University of Louisville, will not be an easy match up either. The Cardinals started off their 2018 season with a 6-3 record.
As far as the Ivy League goes, Harvard is predicted to come in second according to the preseason ranking, which was announced on Feb. 15. It is the first year that the Ancient Eight decided to have a preseason ranking—these predictions are made by a vote from the media, sports information directors, and national media.
Last season the Crimson had seven of its members earn All-Ivy honors. Current junior shortstop Rhianna Rich and senior outfielder Maddy Kaplan both received first-team honors. In addition, junior pitcher Katie Duncan, junior catcher Elizabeth Shively, and sophomore first baseman/pitcher Olivia Giaquinto all earned second-team honors at the end of last season. Junior Outfielder Kaitlyn Schiffhauer and junior third baseman Erin Lockhart collected honorable mentions as well. Six out of seven of these players are returning for at least another two seasons.
“We’re returning the bulk of our lineup from last year so there is a lot of experience one through nine,” Lockhart said. “Everyone’s been here before and we know the challenges ahead of us. We just need to go out and get the job done.”
Princeton came in first place in the Ivy League last year and was predicted to win the title again in 2018. The Crimson lost to the Tigers in the championship tournament at the end of the 2017 season in which Harvard fell to Princeton twice in the three game series.
With the high number of returners and the cohesion of this group of players, the Crimson feels confident leading up to its first game against Purdue.
“In terms of this weekend, we are definitely less experienced than our competition who have already begun to play games. However, we expect to be competitive and are excited for not only the first game against Purdue but this entire weekend and preseason, which will push us to work hard, hone in our skills, and be ready for Ivy League play.”