Talk to any member of the 2016 Rowan softball team, player or coach, and you’ll hear the same sentiment repeated — they are a talented team equipped for a deep postseason run.
A once-over of the roster provides all the evidence needed. The team is fused with top-end senior strength, and a promising cast of underclassmen.
“I think our talent that’s on the team, and the kids that we brought in, put us in a position to be extremely effective,” 20th-year head coach Kim Wilson said.
The brown and gold are currently ranked 9th in the nation by the NFCA, and have been selected as the preseason favorite to win the New Jersey Athletic Conference. They have 17 players returning from last year’s 38-win team, that went on to finish second in the NJAC Championship Tournament and pick up two wins in regionals. Rowan introduces nine new faces to the mix in 2016.
The gem of the bunch that’s returning to the team is senior shortstop Shilah Snead. Her list of accolades is as impressive as it is long; among her laurels are first team All-American, first team East All-Region and NJAC Player of the Year.
“She’s fun, she’s multi-dimensional. There aren’t too many shortstops out there who can steal 30 bases, hit 10 homeruns and just play outstanding defense,” Wilson said.
The middle infield will have a new addition this year following the graduation of second baseman Alysa Romero. Snead’s new double-play partner will be freshman Carly Anderson, a former third team All-American at Nutley High School.
“She’s an amazing player. It’s been a transition for her because she’s a natural shortstop,” Snead said of Anderson. “This past week she’s looked really good, really smooth and clean. I think it’s gonna be a great year.”
Another position featuring a new look is center field. Wilson said that Sammy Vradenburg, who played right field her first two years in the system, will get the first crack at the position, but freshman Gianna Genello will also have a chance.
Amid the introduction of new faces in the lineup — or “reloading” as Wilson prefers to call it — is still one reliable aspect of the Profs’ success: the pitching staff.
“We have dominant senior pitching, we have really good sophomores and we have a pretty good freshman that’s going to get a lot of innings also,” Wilson said.
Heading the ace-laden unit is senior Beth Ann Hyland. She pitched a stellar 2015 season, finishing 19th in the nation in wins with 19, and 20th in earned runs with a 1.32 ERA.
“I want to be lights out,” Hyland said. “If I’m facing a batter and they look confident, I’m thinking, ‘They probably really aren’t. They’re probably really scared to face me right now.’ Because they know that I’m better than they are.”
The second arm in the rotation behind Hyland is senior Allison Nolan, who posted equally impressive numbers (11-1, 1.89 ERA) just in a smaller sample size.
“I think we’re one of the strongest [pitching staffs], if not the strongest, in the country,” said Hyland. “We have a lot of depth to our staff, there’s no real weak link.”
Rowan kicked off its season on Friday with a doubleheader split against William Peace University in Raleigh, North Carolina, winning the first 3-1 then dropping the closing game 8-7. The team headed to Cary, North Carolina today for the two-day Grand Slam Triangle Classic tournament.
The brown and gold have the individual star-power to pull awards from the conference and national levels, but they also have the overall team strength to potentially end the season hoisting the coveted Division National Championship trophy.
Hyland summed up the mindset of the locker room for 2016.
“I would remember being a national champion over being an All-American,” she said.
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