When Penn softball departs for Florida on Thursday, it won’t be looking to just soak up some much-needed sun; the Quakers are hoping to pick up some W’s along the way.
The Red and Blue will head down to the sunshine state over Spring Break for a whirlwind of games, competing in the University of Central Florida Spring Fling Tournament from March 7-9 and the University of South Florida Under Armour Showcase from March 11-14.
Due to the snow-induced postponement of Tuesday’s season-opening doubleheader against St. Joseph’s, the training trip marks the first glimpse of competition this season for the defending Ivy League champions.
“The girls are hungry to get outside to Florida,” said assistant coach and class of 2011 graduate Alisha Prystowsky, who made four early-season trips to Florida during her time playing with the Quakers.
Following the 2013 season, the Quakers graduated seven seniors. Of the five Penn players honored as first team All-Ivy selections last year, only junior pitcher Alexis Borden returns to take the field for the Quakers in 2014.
Thus, Penn’s team is youthful to say the least. Of the 21 Red and Blue players on the roster, 10 are freshmen.
“Their work ethic, their competitiveness is really high, so we’re excited to see them outside and see what they can do,” coach Leslie King said.
The team’s trip to Florida will be a learning experience for everyone.
“We’re just trying to figure out the best combinations, both in the batting order and defensively, and just treating [the trip] as preparation for Ivy League [competition],” King said.
The Red and Blue play their first tournament, the UCF Spring Fling, in Orlando. Penn will play Troy, Western Carolina, Central Florida, Bowling Green and Colgate. Later in the week the Quakers travel to Tampa for USF’s Under Armour Showcase, playing games against Seton Hall, Quinnipiac, Providence, South Florida, Butler, Maine and the Netherlands national team.
Penn’s toughest game of the week will likely be against South Florida. The Bulls were Big East tournament champions in 2013 and nearly advanced out of their region in the NCAA championship.
“They’ve been to NCAA’s each of the last five years, and they have been in the top 20 for the past couple of years, so they will be a good test,” King said.
The coaches don’t seem too nervous. Even though it is early, Prystowsky predicts that Penn will finish the season with a trip the NCAA tournament. If the Quakers can pull it off, this will be the second time in school history that Penn has advanced a squad to the tournament.
The road ahead is long, and the trip to Florida is the first test of the Quakers’ might on the diamond.
“A lot of ending up in a championship is expecting to end up in a championship,” Prystwosky said. “And we have that.”
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