The young Cyclone softball squad had all the beginnings of a successful season and learned plenty along the way after ending its year in the playoffs.
The team worked hard in the offseason and prepared for a tough spring training, starting off well. Head Coach Scott Sobol assembled a talented group with high expectations. They focused on defense, which improved over last season, but hitting slumps and errors threw them off, finishing 17-31 overall and 7-7 in the Illinois Skyway Collegiate Conference for third place. They ended their run in the NJCAA Region IV quarterfinals.
"Overall, we improved immensely on defense because we put the emphasis on that. We hit well to start, but then we didn't stay the offensive ball club I thought we'd be. Collectively, we'd get down and couldn't handle the losing, so one loss became two, etc. It was a learning experience for sure," Sobol said.
The team was composed of mostly newcomers with only two returners. The biggest surprise was pitching. The numbers may not indicate their success, but opposing coaches complimented freshmen Mariah Martinez, Liz McCuan and Karly Krown's performances on the mound. Sobol credits his assistant Coach Ari Bulthius with getting them focused.
"McCuan has electric stuff. With experience and knowing the landscape, she'll be a force next year. Mariah worked her tail off. By the end, she put up dominant outings against good teams. Krown has good stuff. She shut down good teams, and has potential for more," Sobol said.
The catchers, Madi Davis and Angela Abrand, weren't expected to have full-time duties behind the plate. Not only that, the two were put in other field positions when needed, handling all changes with aplomb, Sobol said.
Freshmen Darcee Nichols, Donna Booe, Jessica Coyle, Abrand and Davis should be a force to reckon with next season after learning the routine of college ball. Nichols was moved around several positions and executed well. She also converted to a lefty batter to add pop to her offense.
Booe led the offense with a .384 average, .548 slugging percentage, 35 RBIs, 10 doubles and four homeruns. She was named to the All-Region second team and All-Conference first team. Nichols and Martinez earned All-Conference second team honors while Morgan Kaminsky earned All-Conference honorable mention for their efforts.
The final results were not what the team wanted, for which Sobol takes responsibility. "I had such high expectations and put together a heck of a team, but it's more than that. You can't just expect a good team. It's about what you're willing to do. Ultimately, it's on me. They're good kids and they worked hard, but maybe I overstated their ability to put it on the field all the time. Everyone has bad days," he said. "Next year, I'll pull the levers a little differently. I have to figure out what their goals are and make them our goals. There are good seeds for next year along with recruits. We're excited about where we're going."