By: Dylan Webb
With heavy snow falling in the Lower Mainland as recently as this week and temperatures dropping below zero on a nightly basis, you might be surprised that softball season is technically already underway and just a couple weeks from being in full swing. The SFU Clan and its five new recruits for the 2018 season, despite less than ideal softball weather at home, are eagerly preparing for a season in which they hope to continue establishing themselves as a respectable National Collegiate Athletic Association softball program, currently the only one of its kind in Canada. The team is coming off the excitement of a team-building expedition to Australia, in which the Clan got some much-needed time on the field to sharpen up thanks to the friendlier weather on the other side of the earth. They will now settle in at home for a couple weeks before the regular season really gets going with the team enjoying five of the first six games it plays in the friendly confines of Beedie Field.
The team has already started non-conference play, currently holding a 3–0 record in neutral games. They begin their 2018 Great Northwest Athletic Conference (GNAC) campaign on March 3 at home as they face off against Montana State University Billings in back-to-back games before hosting Concordia University the following weekend. The team hopes to improve on a dismal 12–32 record from last year, which saw the team go winless for eleven straight games at one point.
The team enters the 2018 season having added five new recruits, a promising freshman class, to the squad as they look to inject their lineup with a youthful boost. Newcomers Kyra Watson, Megan Smith, Kate Fergusson, Hannah Boulanger, and Alex Ogg will attempt to contribute to the success of the team as it seeks a breakout season and an elusive playoff berth. Despite the excitement of this injection of new blood into the Clan lineup, the focus is likely to be on the now-senior players such as Victoria Saunders, Taylor Lundrigan, Alia Stachoski, and Taylor Gillis, as well as junior Hailey Gearey, to lead the team offensively and from the mound as they did last season.
Like previous years, the team’s preparations for the new season has been affected by the snowfall seen in the past few months. The winter likely poses a unique set of challenges for the team relative to other teams in their conference, as Burnaby Mountain is the most northern field the GNAC teams play in.
On the mound, Stachoski and Jessica Tate return to the team looking to solidify the defensive side of things for the Clan. With respective earned run averages of 5.27 and 3.84 and records of 4–15 and 0–2, the pitchers undoubtedly would like to improve their statistics in the 2018 season. However, despite slightly inflated numbers due to the struggles the team faced in finding wins, the two pitchers definitely provided a consistency last season that should be valuable again this year. Watson will be the newest addition to the Clan pitching staff, a Langley, BC native hailing from Yale Secondary.
Behind the plate, veteran Katherine Murnaghan looks to draw a significant portion of the work with junior Samantha Ruffett and the versatile Amanda Janes available in supporting roles. With respect to the catchers on the team last season, Murnaghan led the way offensively with a .269 average and 21 hits. Murnaghan’s impressive .992 fielding percentage, in what is typically one of the more challenging defensive assignments, demonstrates her capacity to impart some wisdom by experience on the younger catchers on the team.
On the infield, newcomers Boulanger and Fergusson join the squad as the Clan look to build up its defensive capabilities. The two players join veterans Lundrigan, Courtney De Adder, Gearey, and Saunders on the smaller part of the diamond. Gearey likely holds the most intrigue coming off a very strong freshman season in which she ranked in the top five on the team in all major offensive categories. Lundrigan figures to be the most prolific contributor from the infield corps as she looks to repeat her dominant, team-leading offensive performance from last season in which she posted an absolutely scorching .396 average with a blistering 55 hits in only 139 at bats.
In the outfield, Meghan Smith, the sole newcomer locked into an outfield position, complements a very strong veteran core that looks to provide the bulk of the Clan offence while anchoring the outfield defence. Chelsea Hotner, Dallas Tilley, and Gillis will return to the team looking to build off their strong offensive seasons, particularly in the case of Gillis who led the team in at bats last year.
Offence was the brightest aspect of the Clan season last year as three hitters had a better than .300 batting average. Lundrigan, Gillis, Gearey, and Saunders led the way at the plate, but the team as a whole arguably performed best on the offensive side of things. The team looks to build on this offensive success by rounding out the other areas of their game in order to take the pressure off their bats.
The team has already started off on the right foot in non-conference play having defeated Chaminade in back-to-back games outscoring their opponent 23–8 across the two games. Stachoski picked up the win in both games, starting the year in ideal form and logging some key early season innings in what has been challenging spring training as far as live game action is concerned. Hopefully the team will benefit from some kinder weather in the coming couple weeks in order to secure some much-needed field time.
All in all, the 2018 SFU softball roster looks as strong as it has in recent years and it is shaping up to be a better season than last year as some exciting freshmen complement a solid core of senior players with some real offensive talent. The team kicks off their hunt for a GNAC playoff spot March 3 at Beedie Field at 1 p.m. Come out and support the team and catch some early spring softball!