When Penn softball captured the Ivy League Championship last year, the Quakers did it with a team that was almost entirely comprised of veterans and upperclassmen.
But when the Red and Blue entered spring training this season, however, it was with a roster overflowing with freshmen, as first-year athletes accounted for 10 of the 21 girls in Penn’s program.
Not since 2007, when the Quakers boasted a team of nine seniors, has one class so dominated the roster for Penn.
“It’s refreshing,” coach Leslie King said. “It’s something we haven’t had in this program in a while and it’s great to have all of these girls join our team.”
However, building a team with so many freshmen is not without its challenges, especially after Penn saw so much success after returning almost every single one of its starters last year.
"The learning curve is very steep, and we have been working hard this spring to bring all these new faces up to speed with how we do things here," King said. “It has taken a little longer than normal with such a large number of girls, but the spring training trip really helped us prepare them.”
With all this young talent, it would be easy to think that the Quakers are entering a rebuilding period. After all, Penn will have to replace seven seniors from last year, including three first team All-Ivy selections in Stephanie Caso, Brooke Coloma and Jessica Melendez .However, the defending Ivy Championship squad has no intention of waiting to compete again for the title.
“I don’t think any of us are looking down the road at all right now,” freshman infielder Sydney Kranzmann said. “The focus is definitely on this year, and we are all proud to be part of this team and want to do anything we can to help the team win now.”
“If you look at our roster, I think you will see at least three freshmen that have already started to make their mark on this program,” coach King said. “All of them have the potential to do great things.”
In particular, both outfielder Leah Allen and pitcher Alexis Sargent have had an impressive opening stretch of the season. Allen has started all 11 games for the Quakers this season and leads the team in batting with a .359 average, and Sargent is 2-1 as a pitcher with an earned run average of 1.53, and is also batting .348.
The Quakers have also put to bed any worry that the large number of freshmen would affect the team dynamic in any way.
“I think the thing that makes this program different is how welcoming the seniors and upperclassman made us feel,” Kranzmann said. “They have always made us feel like we belong here, and they’ve never made us feel silly coming to them for help.”
Needless to say though, this core of young athletes bodes well for Penn’s future.
“Whenever you have a large class you hope they stay together and that they can be something you build a successful team around,” coach King said. “In Florida we started five freshmen in our last game, just to give them a taste of the competition, and it was just fun to watch.”
Whether it is in a game this weekend, or in a game three years down the road, it is clear that we can expect great things from this freshman class of Penn softball.
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