ANNA PITINGOLO, GoPSUsports.com Student
UNIVERSITY PARK, Pa. - The Penn State softball team is under
a week from kicking off the 2017 season. After a successful season last year,
the Nittany Lions are ready to get back on the diamond and pick up where they
Starts on the Road
Opening Weekend will be in Baton Rouge, Louisiana this
weekend when the Nittany Lions take on McNeese State, LSU and Oklahoma State in
the LSU Tournament. After that, the team will continue to play in tournaments
down south until the weather warms up in Happy Valley.
While there are challenges of playing so many games on the
road, the team isn't worried about it affecting them in any way.
"It's kind of fun actually, playing at somebody else's field
is more like a challenge," senior Shelby Miller said. "You're not in your
comfort zone and we do drills everyday [at practice] that make us uncomfortable
so we're very used to being uncomfortable. Plus it's fun to see all the other
cultures of the other schools and you gain respect for what they do."
Sophomore Tori Dubois added that just because the team is
away from Beard Field it doesn't mean they're not capable of playing their best
"I think that being on the road for the first five weeks,
everyone's like 'oh, you're on the road, the wear and tear of the travel and
everything,' but we take that as a challenge," Dubois said. "Why can't we go
and perform in their place and then we can prove ourselves there. We don't have
to be home to win, we can go on the road and show everyone what we can do."
off Last Season's Momentum
Penn State finished last season with a 30-24 (14-9 Big Ten)
record, its first 30-win season since 2011, when that team finished with 31
wins. The team also finished in the top four in the Big Ten for the third time
in program history.
Despite the impressive season, the team missed out on the
NCAA Tournament and head coach Amanda Lehotak and company have only used that
as motivation for this year.
"It's absolutely a motivating factor. We've always talked
about that we need to gain respect in the Big Ten first before we can gain it
nationally," Lehotak said. "We felt we did that, finishing fourth in the Big
Ten regular season, beating Nebraska [in the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals]
and finally starting slowly to chip away at Michigan [in the Big Ten Tournament
semifinals], which was a big step for our program. So in terms of are we
with a Young Team
Lehotak lost seven seniors to graduation after last season,
and replacing them will be no easy task. Macy Jones and Lexi Knief hit .398 and
.356, respectively, and held down the outfield for the Nittany Lions.
Pair those losses with the transfer of catcher Alyssa
VanDerveer, who hit .362, and Lehotak is going to need someone to fill in their
shoes in the batter's box.
"All the seniors [last year], their senior year was when
they really excelled, but the good thing is Shelby [Miller] returns and Tori
[Dubois] was coming on strong at the end of the year so we expect our youth to
step up," Lehotak said. "If they hit like they've been hitting in practice, we
could potentially be better 1-9 than we've been, but it is hard to replace a
Macy Jones and a Lexi Knief."
Despite having a young team, Lehotak is optimistic that her
team's new look will translate into a more complete game on the field.
"We're going to have a completely new look on the field. I
think it's an exciting look, I think it's a more athletic look and I think we're
deeper 1-20 than I think we've been since I've been here," Lehotak said.
Practices Driving Team Forward
Looking to improve upon last season, the coaching staff has
been keeping the players on their toes each practice. Instead of sticking with
a normal routine, the players are getting curveballs thrown at them each time
they arrive for practice.
"Our coaches have really been switching it up every single
day, giving us something new that we've never seen before," Miller said. "It's
been really refreshing as a player because you go from doing the same thing a
lot of the time with the same people and now it's completely different, you're
with a new group, new girls, you've got so many new drills."
Lehotak echoed the sentiment, adding that by getting into the
rut of a routine, the team wasn't helping itself reach that next level of
"We talk about how we've been knocking on that door but we
haven't really done anything yet, so the challenge this year, coaching staff
included, is that we're going out of our comfort zone in every area," Lehotak
said. "I love routine, but that also wasn't helping us get to the next stage so
it's been all about that and it's been all about being uncomfortable."
Around a Complete Pitching Staff
At this point in time, Lehotak is most confident in her
pitching staff, which has grown in the offseason, both in size and in talent.
"I think our pitching staff is probably the strongest part
of our team right now in terms of complete consistency," Lehotak said.
"Marlaina Laubach obviously has been our ace for four years and Maddie Seifert
finished on a great year, so they're the one- and two-punch. The greatest thing
about them is they set each other up really well."
After using a rotation of mainly Laubach and Seifert last
year, Lehotak plans to incorporate other pitchers into the lineup to keep
"You're going to see some kids that you didn't see much of
last year. Maddie Shaffer has emerged as one of the most competitive pitchers
on the staff in regards to what she can do off-speed. Madey Smith, a freshman,
she gives a completely different look. And then Jess Cummings who has had some
injuries for the past two years, is finally healthy, and she really changes the
dynamic of our staff in a great way. I'm very excited about our entire pitching
staff, which is really fun as a coach to say."
The Nittany Lions take the field for the first time this
season on Friday at 1:30 p.m. against McNeese State.