They’ve been so close, they could almost taste it.
For consecutive years, Penn softball has reigned supreme in the Ivy South Division. For consecutive years, they have played in the Ivy League Championship Series. And for consecutive years, their title dreams have been squashed by Dartmouth.
But that might all change with this year’s squad.
Despite losing several key seniors from last year’s team, the Quakers’ title prospects this year are looking good. In addition to a strong and deep recruiting class, the Red and Blue return six starters, including several big bats in the middle of the lineup.
“I believe our chances are very strong,” senior captain Kanani Datan said. “This is one of strongest teams I’ve seen since I’ve been here, and I was on the last championship team. We have a lot of depth at every position and will definitely compete.”
Head coach Leslie King agrees with her captain.
“I feel pretty good about our chances this year, I think that we’re flying under the radar a bit and that the rest of the league is underestimating us, and I like that position,” she said. “We graduated an ace pitcher last year, and I don’t think the rest of the team got the credit it deserved for getting us to the championship. The heart of that team is still here.”
That ace pitcher, Alexis Borden, leaves big shoes to be filled for the Quakers, but one that they are more than prepared to fill. In 10 games so far, the team has also used four different starting pitchers — five in total — and has recorded a team earned run average of 3.08, good for second in the Ivy League.
With the graduation of last year’s seniors from the team, only this year’s three seniors remain from the 2013 Ivy League Champion team. The large majority of the current team has only known second place finishes in the conference. Because of this, many on the team are eager to dethrone Dartmouth this season.
“I think [the loss to Dartmouth] is a very strong motivating factor,” senior captain Kanani Datan said. “When I was a freshman, the team had only known a championship loss to Harvard the year before, and that entire year they were extremely motivated and kept saying that it was never going to happen again. Even though some of these girls only know the feeling of losing in a championship, I know both, and I know that feeling is strong enough that I don’t want to go back.”
While talent-wise this year’s players might be similar to those in previous years, they believe that they have an extra factor that could help them prevail in 2016.
“I think this team is a much closer team than those in previous years, the chemistry is real strong and there’s a lot more selflessness,” King said. “We do have a lot of experience, but I think the chemistry is really a strong point for us this year, and I like that.”
In Dartmouth, who again looks to be the team to beat in the Ivy League, the Quakers will face a very similar team from last year. The Big Green lost only two seniors, but one of whom, Kristen Rumley, was their main pitcher, starting 25 games and posting a very strong ERA of 2.14. Much like Penn, Dartmouth will look to a host of younger players to fill this void, and with the vast majority of the team still intact, they will put up a strong effort to defend their title.
The road to the conference championship begins with the start of conference play on April 1, when the Quakers take on Brown. If the team plays to its potential, they can earn themselves another chance at redemption — and an opportunity to take home that elusive Ivy title for the first time in three years.
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