BETHLEHEM, Pa. – The Lehigh softball program has been hard at work in preparation for the 2013 season. The two-time defending Patriot League champions recently passed the halfway point of their preseason workouts. While many teams around the country will open up this weekend, Lehigh has two more weeks to continue to improve and head coach Fran Troyan likes what he sees so far.
“The effort and the attitude of the team have been really strong and I feel good about the group,” explained Troyan, who begins his 18th season. “We’re at a point in time where we need to fight through being indoors as long as we have been. I think we’ve been smart by scheduling a couple off-days during the preseason to stay fresh. For us, if we stay fresh and stay healthy, we feel like we’ll be ready to step on the field and compete on the very first weekend out.”
Earlier this week the Mountain Hawks were picked to win their third straight Patriot League title. In addition, senior catcher Liz Lucas and senior pitcher Becca Bliss were named the league’s Preseason Player and Pitcher of the Year respectively. Lucas and Bliss will captain the Mountain Hawks in 2013 along with senior outfielder Kristen Mitchell.
With strong pitching being critical to success in softball, Lehigh once again features two of the best in the region in Bliss and sophomore Emily Bausher. The duo did not allow a run in 21 innings in last year’s Patriot League tournament. Bliss was especially dominant during the Patriot League season and went on to earn tournament MVP honors, while Bausher boasted the league’s top ERA at 1.78 and led the Mountain Hawks with 195 strikeouts. Juniors Ashley Quigley and Kelsey Lee should give Lehigh depth in the circle, while the Mountain Hawks also feature three capable catchers in Lucas, junior Jess Long and sophomore Brandi Hawkins.
Lehigh lost four key senior starters to graduation, including three-fourths of its starting infield so opportunities will be present for the Mountain Hawks’ five freshmen to make immediate contributions. Jessica Calvini, Morgan Decker, Alexis Watanabe and Carissa Zito are all vying for time on the infield, while MacKenzie Velasquez will compete for time in left field. The new faces have a produced a competitive environment for the Mountain Hawks in their preseason practices.
“Competition makes everybody better and the players have handled it incredibly well,” Troyan said. “With the amount of competition going on at various positions, I think the quality of the effort at practice, while it has always been good, has increased a little bit.”
The competition has also left Troyan with plenty of options for when he prepares his early season lineup cards. Calvini will compete with sophomore Cassie Waggy at first base, Watanabe is working with junior Lizzy Odren at second base. Sophomore Emma Capetz has moved from second base to shortstop, where she is competing with Zito, and Decker and senior Jacqi Kennelly are in the mix at third base. In the outfield, Velasquez is battling junior Kristin Taft to see time alongside seniors Mitchell and Rosie Roessel.
Winter weather always seems to be an issue for northeast programs, and this year is no different for the Mountain Hawks. There have been no major snowstorms to impact preparations over the last month, but those cold January and February temperatures have kept Lehigh inside Rauch Fieldhouse, aside from some limited time outside on Lehigh’s turf fields. While not a new development for this program, it is possible the Mountain Hawks may not work out on a dirt and grass field until they head to North Carolina for their season opening tournament.
“We’ve been outside and taken the outfielders out a handful of times and put it together on the field hockey field,” Troyan said. “It’s clear that that’s where the bulk of our work needs to take place and the fact of the matter is that we need to be out on a field in order for us to be able to take the next steps. So right now we’re just focusing on fundamentals and getting our legs underneath us and our arms ready to go.”
Until then, Lehigh will continue to work on fundamentals and simply improving with every workout.
“Right now we’re just trying to get our rhythm back with our defense and with our hitting and pitching and catching and we’re going to be moving into a phase where we’re going to try and be working on situational aspects of the game a little bit as we get closer to playing,” Troyan said. “We have a lot of different people playing different positions and we’re really going to have to work hard at communication, and we’re working hard on it right now.”
The Mountain Hawks will open the 2013 season at the ECU Pirate Invitational; February 22-24 in Greenville, N.C. Lehigh will open up with Liberty, February 22 at 10 a.m. before taking on the host Pirates at 2:30 p.m.