Coach Robin Petrini and the softball team are excited to get their cleats in the dirt and start the season this week.
The Nittany Lions start off with a five-game trip to New Mexico to take on Colorado State, New Mexico State, Texas Tech, and the University of Missouri-Kansas City.
“We’re looking for a good opening weekend,” Petrini said. “We’re going into New Mexico and we want to get out of there with a winning record. We want to find out who we can count on and who will be our go-to kids.”
The Nittany Lions will try to bounce back from an 18-32 season last year.
“We had a discussion last week about taking last year, spitting it out, and moving forward,” the 17th year head coach said.
One of the things to look forward to this season is the impact of the freshman class.
“It’s easy to fall back on last year but to have our eight freshmen wanting to win will be very exciting,” senior Kailyn Johnson said. “[The freshman class] keeps us motivated.”
Some of the first-year players include Christy Von Pusch, who was named Pennsylvania first team All-State and Lexi Knief of Ramsey, N.J., who was named Suburban News Player of the year from 2009-2011.
Petrini believes the team’s strength will be the offense, led by senior Cassidy Bell.
Bell is coming off a season in which she set school records in batting average and slugging percentage with .423 and .784, respectively.
For her efforts she earned unanimous All-Big Ten first team honors.
“We’ve never been a 15-20 home run per player team,” Petrini said. “But I think we have more kids capable of hitting it out than we ever have.”
The team will return all eight starters on defense but will look to replace Lisa Akamine’s pitching production. The graduate appeared 35 times last season with 19 complete games.
The starting role will like fall to sophomore Marrisa Diescher, who posted five wins in 19 starts.
“We’re looking forward to a great year from Marrisa,” Petrini said. “She is strong, has great stuff and we’re looking forward to having her compete for us.”
The team is looking forward to playing in the Big Ten Tournament later in the year. It had not been played due to a four-year hiatus designed to provide a better schedule for student-athletes, according to Illinois softball coach Terri Sullivan.
“Fighting for spots in the Big Ten tournament will keep everyone motivated down the stretch of the season.” Petrini said. “I think bringing that back will be a tremendous addition to our conference.”