For Penn softball, spring break is more like a ¨spring beginning.¨
While the rest of Penn’s student body will be busy relaxing and enjoying its week off, the Quakers will be hard at work as they kick off their season at the Under Armour Invitational, hosted by South Florida in Clearwater, Fla.
Over the span of a week, Penn will play nine games — including doubleheaders this Friday and Saturday to start the Invitational — against teams from all over the country.
Notable opponents for the Red and Blue include teams such as Texas State and Illinois that have jumped out to strong starts to their respective seasons. With such a large and varied group of opponents, the Red and Blue will have an opportunity to size up their competition and see where they fall right off the bat.
The Invitational is a chance for Penn to kick off what is shaping up to be another exciting and successful season.
“I feel like we’re in a really good place,” Penn coach Leslie King said. “Obviously we all want to get out there and play against someone other than ourselves. We’ve got some really good competition down there, and I think it’s going to prepare us really well for Ivy League play. It’s gonna be nice and warm, so it’s always good preparation, going down there.”
The four-time defending Ivy South Division champion Quakers are returning many key players from last year’s campaign, including the 2015 Ivy League Rookie of the Year Jurie Joyner. Along with senior captain Lauren Li, Joyner was named to the CollegeSportsMadness.com first team Preseason All-Ivy. After both capturing first team All-Ivy honors last season, the two look to once again form the backbone of Penn’s offense.
Also receiving nods for Preseason All-Ivy Second Team were senior Korinne Raby and junior Leah Allen, both of whom should play key roles on the team for this upcoming season. Raby figures to be the team’s starting catcher after starting the majority of the team’s games behind the plate last year. Likewise, Allen started all but one game last year in right field for the Red and Blue, and should provide some power in the middle of the lineup for the team. The preseason games also give Penn a chance to try out some less experienced players.
“We generally rotate everybody in [over spring break]. Everyone will get some playing time, some will get more time than others, but we’re looking to give everybody some playing time,” King said. “But at the same time, we’re looking to win ball games. If someone gets hot and we need to have them in our lineup, then we’ll have them in our lineup. So it’s very fluid as far as what direction we go.”
However, the Quakers do have a big hole to fill after the graduation of Alexis Borden, the team’s former starting pitcher. Borden started 23 of Penn’s 42 games last season, and logged a total of 155.2 innings while posting a formidable 2.92 earned run average.
“I think for the most part, we want to see where our pitching staff is at,” King said. “It’s gonna be a much different staff this year, in a good way. I’m really excited to see them work together. I think we have some very talented freshmen that are pushing for playing time, and there’s just a lot of depth in general. So we’re gonna be moving people around a little bit, trying to find the best combinations for our team so that when we open up against Brown on April 1, we’re ready to go.”
The squad will look to Li and junior Alexis Sargent, who combined to make 15 starts and 25 appearances in the circle last season, to fill the void left by Borden’s absence. The plethora of games in the upcoming week will give the Quakers the opportunity to test out their pitching depth and see who will step up to take the job as the team’s main starting pitcher.
With a full slate of games coming up, Penn looks to start the season off on the right foot in Florida. The Invitational affords them the chance to work out many of the early season kinks while still giving them valuable in-game experience before conference play begins next month.
A good showing from the team could set them up with the momentum they need to have yet another successful season.
Please note All comments are eligible for publication in The Daily Pennsylvanian.