NEWTON, Mass. – The 2016 Mount Ida College softball team is a dichotomy of two things – youth and experience. While the team is still built on its young talent, with no student-athletes leaving via graduation at the end of this year, the team does return all of its starters from a season ago, in which they returned to the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) postseason. That group includes a pair of All-Conference selections.
"Versatile is a good word to use for this team because just about everyone plays numerous positions and everyone has good experience playing summer ball," said Head Coach Katie Zuman, entering her 9th season at the helm. "We are going to be a combination of speed, strength, savviness at the plate, and especially defensively sound."
The bulk of the returners are made up by this year's junior class, five members of the squad who are all impact players, including the return of starting pitcher Nicole Handzel (Palmer, Mass.), who missed the bulk of last year with an injury and is hoping to return to her freshman year self when she set the school record for strikeouts in a season and was named GNAC All-Conference.
Also returning to the squad is 2015 All-Conference utility player Kaitlyn Muhlenforth (Bohemia, N.Y.), catchers Emma Morton (Winchester, Mass.) and Sam Laferriere (Tewksbury, Mass.), outfielder Michele MacDonald (N. Dighton, Mass.), and infielder Lucianna Medici (Riverside, R.I.).
Muhlenforth hit .370 and slugged .489 for the team last year with a team high 19 runs scored. She and sophomore Hayley Microulis (Pawtucket, R.I.) co-led the team with 13 runs batted in and 34 hits apiece, and Microulis hit .366 with a matching .404 on base percentage to Muhlenforth, who led the team with eight doubles and knocked one of three home runs hit by the Mustangs.
"Hayley has taken the offensive and focused on her fitness and her strength. I expect her to really improve on her numbers hitting-wise and diminish the number of errors last year," Zuman noted of the infielder who will also serve as Mount Ida's second pitcher.
Outfielder Alexis Boswell (Amesbury, Mass.) also enters her sophomore year after driving in 11 runs and hitting .308 with two doubles and a triple a year ago.
The freshman class for the Mustangs will all be big contributors this year, featuring Kelsey Weston (Hampstead, N.H.), Kristina Stella (Revere, Mass.), Jenni Jackson (Marlborough, Mass.) and Victoria Russo (Revere, Mass.), while junior Therese Armbrust (Staatsburg, N.Y.) also makes her Mustang softball debut this season.
The Mustangs also welcome a new addition to the coaching staff, first year coach Julia Levins, who is no stranger to the team after facing them as a member of the Emmanuel College softball squad, from which she graduated in 2014.
"Julia is a huge asset to this program. The girls love her and really respond to her teaching. I've given her the green light to make hitting her own and she is the one really taking charge when we go to the cage," Coach Zuman said of her new assistant. "I can see the improvement on some of their swings throughout preseason, which is great. Minor little tweaks on a couple of them have really made a difference."
While Mount Ida was picked to finish ninth in the GNAC in the preseason poll of coaches, Zuman expects that the team's expectations are not only to get back to the playoffs but to build on their work last year by advancing further. According to Zuman, the underdog mentality is one that the team embraces and talks about overcoming adversity and giving every team that they play a lot more than they bargained for.
"It's maybe discouraging to always be chosen at the bottom half of the conference, but if everyone stays healthy, with this group of girls, I don't see why we can't contend for the championship."
Mount Ida is currently in Florida, where they will kick off the season with eight games at the National Training Center tournament in Clermont. They return home and play at Regis on March 20th before their home opener on March 29th against Eastern Nazarene. The GNAC opener on April 2nd at Johnson & Wales will be a rematch of last year's opening round game, where the Wildcats defeat Mount Ida en route to the conference title.
Home conference games include St. Joseph (CT) on April 9th, Anna Maria on April 10th, Suffolk on April 15th, Lasell (Apr. 17), Norwich (Apr. 23) and Albertus Magnus (Apr. 24).