With the wheel of college athletics constantly turning, every four years witnesses a new set of athletes entering the arena to try and uphold the tradition and excellence of a program.
As a result, one of the most important responsibilities for seniors on any team is to lead by example both on and off the field. And, luckily enough, the Penn softball team has a trio of capable athletes looking to do just that during the 2014 season.
Seniors Kristen Johnson, Elysse Gorney and Kayla Dahlerbruch are taking this task quite seriously. Because the trio has been an integral part of the Quakers' recent string of success, they hope to pass the torch on to the squad's younger members.
“We are coming off a championship team so it’s really important to get [the freshmen] integrated into how our system works,” Gorney said.
The most important place for these three athletes to demonstrate their leadership is on the field since their performances are one of the reasons for the team's recent triumphs .
Gorney has been an important catalyst for the Red and Blue's offense of late, as well as a steady presence behind the plate.
The team captain and starting catcher accumulated a .389 on-base percentage and a team-leading 36 runs scored a season ago. She has also come up with some clutch performances against Ivy League opponents, helping to propel the Quakers to the top of the conference last season.
Gorney's relationship with Penn's pitchers on the field are another testament to her veteran leadership.
“The pitchers and catchers definitely have really good relationships,” Gorney said. “After every inning we come into the dugout and talk about what worked, what didn’t work, who are the good hitters on the team and whether you should pitch around certain players. There’s a lot of open communication.”
Dahlerbruch has also had a steady career positioned on the left side of the infield at third base. Throughout the course of her time at Penn, the veteran has gotten on base at an extremely high rate, including a career high .421 OBP in 2011. She also posted a strong 2012 season with a .299 batting average, a .392 OBP and a .479 slugging percentage, while demonstrating some power with six home runs.
“We’re here to show [the freshmen] this is how it’s done and show them the ropes,” Dahlerbruch said. “I think that’s very important with such a young team since half the team is freshmen.”
Unlike her fellow seniors, Johnson returns to action in 2014 after a year off.
However, in the two years she did play, the Jacksonville, Fla., native provided valuable experience to Penn's outfield. And Johnson knows the importance of getting to know the younger players on this team as early as possible.
“From day one it was really important to jump on [the freshmen] and become really comfortable with them, even off the field because you want to develop a relationship with them,
However, not all leadership is demonstrated through performance on the field, as a winning culture is often created from unifying the team off the field as well. Johnson, Gorney, and Dahlerbruch are trying to create a culture of consistent success at Penn, and this comes in many different shapes and forms.
While a softball team is made up of a large number of players, it can be argued that these three seniors will have one of the most important roles this season. The group can potentially influence the way softball is played at Penn for years to come through their leadership both on and off the diamond.