Bryan Palacio/contributing writer
Hype can be defined as promotional publicity; in sports, it comes from the potential ability of a team or player. But for a softball team without much hype, the FIU women’s softball team is going to have to earn it with their play.
Standing around at what is supposed to be a media event on Feb.4 in the softball fields, there are no reporters or cameramen. No one shows up to what’s supposed to be a day to showcase the softball team. Minutes later, the event is canceled and the players start warming up for practice. Hype or no hype, that doesn’t deter the team.
“Forty-plus [wins],” said senior Brie Rojas. “We’re coming for the title, go big or go home.”
The Panthers are coming off a 28-27 season that left them sixth in the standings in the Sun Belt Conference. Their 15-9 conference play was good for third in the conference, as well as being 17-8 at home. Forty or more wins would be a welcomed, albeit difficult, feat that’d place them at the top of the conference.
The senior-lead team welcomes 10 new players as well as nine from last year’s squad. The team consists of some notable four-year players, highly recruited freshman, all-American transfers, and even a two-time tournament champion. This lineup explains why even the coach couldn’t stray away from the excitement.
“I’m excited to get going,” said second-year softball Head Coach Jake Schumann. “Three of the biggest conferences play here that first weekend [Feb. 8-9]. We have a lot of home games, anytime you play in the south you have to take advantage of that. I can’t wait to get started.”
Depth and talent is something everyone is pressing to be the main difference this year as opposed to last, and they’ll need it if they want to compete for the title. Last year being his first year, Schumann was left to deal with a roster he didn’t put together. Now in his second year, he has the luxury of going into the season with a more ideal roster.
Players have stressed that this team is far more talented than any other they have played with since arriving at FIU. They received talent in the batting lineup where they finished with a team batting average of .262, seventh best in the conference. Their pitching, which ranked sixth last year in ERA, rotation now includes transfer Shelbie Wagnon who finished last year 10-3 with an ERA of 1.66, and freshman Corrine Jenkins who earned numerous accolades in high school including Sarasota Herald Tribune Player of the Week, FACA All-Star, and FACA 8A Player of the Year, all in 2012. Jenkins’ father also happens to be the Assistant Pitching Coach for the Cincinnati Reds. The team looks to have four to five new starters.
“We usually have girls that come in and maybe one or two play, now we have more people than we have spots for, we’ve never had that problem,” said senior Kayla Burri. “We’re always like ‘man, we need someone to play here or play here’ and now it’s like ’Where are we going to put them?’”
Apart from just talent, the team has a put an onus on working hard and putting forth maximum effort. Players come out earlier than scheduled and put in extra time afterwards in the batting cages. The mentality of the team has been chemistry and hard work, including in the classroom where all players are academically eligible and the coach stresses grades, studying, and even tutoring if need be. The coach even put together the schedule so that there are no games on a school night.
“This year everybody actually wants to be out, everybody is actually working hard. The team chemistry is a lot better and everybody enjoys being out here. Everybody does extra, last year not many people would come out and do extra. It’s a personal thing and a part of him, too. We all want to do good this year,” said senior Jessy Alfonso. “[On being .500] That’s average, we don’t want average in this program.
FIU was slated to come in third in the Preseason Sun Belt Coaches Poll, which is voted on by all nine head coaches in the SBC. The Panthers start the new season this weekend and will take on Kansas, Georgetown, and North Carolina St. at the Panther Invitational starting today at 4:00pm in the softball field.