Season preview: Rowan Softball

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The Rowan softball team is built on a foundation of excellence. Each year, they are mainstays in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Top 25 Poll, raking in individual conference and national accolades.

The 2017 season will be no different.

“We lost a lot of talent, but we gained a lot of talent,” said Damariz Mercado, one of three captains and the only senior on the team. “We want to get back to where we were last year.”

In the latest NFCA poll, the Profs ranked 10th, and were picked as favorites to win the New Jersey Athletic Conference in the Preseason Coaches Poll. All this expected success comes despite losing incredibly valuable players a year ago.

The 2017 roster almost looks incomplete. It’s missing two of the program’s all-time greatest players. The Profs are tasked with replacing All-American shortstop Shilah Snead, and reigning NJAC Pitcher of the Year Beth Ann Hyland.

At shortstop, it will be sophomore Carly Anderson replacing Snead. The Nutley, New Jersey, native proved herself last season to be a viable replacement for Snead. Anderson took to second base in 2016, but is able to slide back into her preferred role at shortstop this season. She was second on the team in batting average a year ago, behind Snead, and played in all 53 of the team’s games.

“I would say she is going to be the best shortstop in the country,” Mercado said. “[Anderson] was a big part of our success last year, and I think she’s going to be a really big part of our success this year.”

As for the pitching staff, it won’t be one individual stepping into the circle to single-handedly replace Hyland — it will be a group effort.

“It’ll be difficult,” said junior pitcher and team captain Ashley Lesch. “It will take all four of the pitchers on the staff this year.”

Behind Lesch will be junior Rachel Gagliardo, freshman Lauren Shannon and freshman Jesse DeDomenico, who is listed on the roster as a pitcher and infielder.

Last season, Hyland pitched 100 innings more than the next pitcher, so spreading out that work will be a welcomed challenge for the pitching staff.

“It’s going to be a learning year, but it’s going to be good,” Lesch said. “We’re going to have success because we’re going to have to work all four of us, not just one star. But that’s going to compliment us, and keep us strong through the postseason.”

A deep postseason run is the ultimate goal. When asked if a conference championship would suffice this year, considering the youth, Mercado swiftly snapped back.

“Definitely not,” she said.

The 2017 Profs softball season will open this weekend with the Virginia Wesleyan College Beach Blast tournament. It will be the first time some of the girls get to see the speed of a college softball game, and for others it will be the first step toward duplicating last year’s success. It will be the ushering in of the new, young era of Profs softball.

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