Despite the most recent snow fall that covered the grass on the campus of Mercyhurst North East, the spring sports season is upon us. With that, the Saints highly successful softball program is gearing up for another season.
That season is a mere nine days away, as the Saints are set to open the 2016 campaign on February 26th vs Augustana College and Jackson College, in Clermont Florida. The trip is part of a 12 day, 16 game road trip to open the Saints season.
The Saints will have a much different look than the team we last saw in the National Tournament last May. That group, which only had 13 total players, lost over half of them to graduation. The Saints of 2015 went 29-13 and will now take the field without all three players that were named to the All Region team. Those were pitcher Portia McBride, catcher Lauren Nickerson, and All American outfielder Julia Lang.
This year's squad boasts 20 players and does return some experience from last year. Six Saints were on last year's team, including three that were named All Conference. Taylor Wilson, Kim Burdett, and Emily Foy are those three and making a return from the past is Sam Mott. Mott was an All Region Player for the Saints in 2014 and is back in a Saints uniform this year.
With many new faces, it's hard to predict where the Saints stand going into 2016. "We had a bad fall season, but I think we can greatly improve on that", says head coach Brian Dewey. Dewey, beginning his 14th season at the helm, says the Saints can be a good team, but they aren't there yet.
"There two things standing in our way right now", says Dewey. "The first is we have to be smarter about how we play the game of softball. We make a lot of little mistakes but we think those can be corrected with practice and time. The second is the team has to be willing to make the sacrifices it takes to be a champion. Every great team has to give up something to give their all to a team. Sometimes it's part of their social life, a lifestyle, or something along those lines. Our current team hasn't made that sacrifice yet, but if they do, the sky is the limit."
With having 20 players, the most in the programs history, Dewey put a charge in his schedule, having more games than any in his 14 years. The first 24 games will be played in Florida and Maryland, and the Saints will get their first home battle in late March. That will be a familiar place for the Saints and they have 21 home games schedules, which is more than the last three years combined. "Things worked out that way and we are pumped for it", says Dewey. "There is nothing like playing at home, and we will have plenty of chances to play on our own diamond this year. We even have a brand new tarp to help get games in."
That schedule will host many familiar foes from the Saints past, highlighted by Region opponents Orange Community College and Monroe College. Both teams are strong and the Saints road to a Region title will not be an easy one. Mercyhurst battled Orange in the championship last year, and Monroe the year before. Both years, the Region championship was closely contested. "This will be the toughest year yet if we want to repeat", says Dewey. "Both Monroe and Orange are improved from last year in terms of talent. It will be some very good softball."
For Saints fans, that good softball will be viewed in the friendly confines of Vineyard Field. Mercyhurst North East will be the host of the Region 15/3 Tournament this year. That tourney will feature all three teams and will be held April 30th and May 1st at Mercyhurst.
Dewey isn't looking ahead that far yet. "First things first, we are looking forward to our final week of preseason practice. We need to improve on a few things, and we need to grow up a bit, then we will be looking forward to getting this season started."