“There are bad memories,” Emily Bennett, a junior sports management major and Union softball utility player, said with a laugh.
She’s referring to last season, when the team struggled to secure ten wins in a 42-game season, during which they averaged just under five runs a game. Their opponents averaged ten runs.
But less than a week into the season, the team has already shown significant improvement. The Lady Bulldogs swept a three-game series against the University of Montevallo, Flagler College and Lynn University, winning their first game by mercy rule.
Almost a complete rebuild turned the team around. Six of the nine players on the field and 12 of the 23 girls on the team are freshmen.
“It’s like a whole new team this year, so it’s like we’re starting fresh again,” Coach Heather Hall said.
Hall said that the pitching, a major problem last year, has been much more consistent this year and that the depth of the bench is one of the team’s strong points.
“I’m really excited because we have a lot of talent on this team,” she said. “Our girls work really, really hard and they’re very determined to get the job done and to do their absolute best each and every day that they go out to practice and play.”
Hall said that because of the talent and youth of the team, players will probably be put in different positions to see what works best. All of the pitchers can hit and play other positions, which she says will lead to a stronger batting order.
But a young team also creates challenges.
“Most of them haven’t really adapted to college yet and figured out how much time they need for softball and school,” Bennett said, remembering her own struggles freshman year. As the only freshman on the field, she felt extra pressure to play well.
“[Coach Hall] sat me down and said, ‘I want you to play like a senior.’ And I struggled a lot starting out,” she said. “I got walked my first ten at-bats my freshman year, so I got up to bat thinking, ‘I want to walk, I want to walk’ and that’s when started striking out looking or popping up and then I had in my head, ‘If I don’t do this, coach is going to take me out of the line-up.’”
With so many newcomers, Hall emphasized the need for team unity instead of clinging to an individualistic mentality.
“Everyone’s used to being the big dog on the team, so now we’re learning that we have a lot of big dogs,” she said. “Softball is a team sport, but it’s really a lot of individuals that make up that team…the challenge is to get everyone to buy in that it’s a team effort.”
“I think we struggled at the beginning of the year, getting to know each other, but I think it’s getting better,” said Gabby Morris, an outfielder and pitcher who recently won GSC Freshman of the Week. “Especially this past weekend, I think we all came together as a team.”
Bennett is looking forward to a more successful season.
“I feel like now that season’s finally here, we can all figure it out and get along and hopefully win way more than we did last year. I think we will,” she said. “That’s basically what this year is – just rebuilding.”
Conference games start Saturday, Feb. 18 at Shorter University. Game times are available online at uuathletics.com.