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Junior captain and outfielder Jess England is second on the team with 18 runs scored.

Credit: Biruk Tibebe

For Penn softball, it’s out with the old and in with the new — the really new.

Fresh off the graduations of program legends Leah Allen and Alexis Sargent, it was clear that the Red and Blue would have an overhauled personnel this season, and that’s nowhere more evident than with the team’s captains. Led by juniors Jessica England and Hannah Gibbons, the Quakers have zero senior captains for the first time since 2006.

Ask anyone involved, though, and the unusual arrangement seems to be working just fine.

“I guess if you looked at it from an outside perspective, it would be kind of difficult. But in my position, I use [the seniors] as my tools and guiding leaders; when I try to make decisions, I always go to them,” Gibbons said. “I always hear what they have to say, because they have insane insight, so that’s kind of my role as a leader — use the other leaders around me to make the team better.”

Though both Gibbons and England have taken the leadership roles in their third season, the pair has taken completely different paths to get there.

England, who could not be reached for comment, has started since her freshman year, and her strong 2017 season saw her finish in the team’s top five in batting average (.319) and on base percentage (.423), including a team-high 18 walks. 

On the flip side, Gibbons is hitting 3 for 28 in two-and-a-half seasons.

But when the votes came in, the athletes made one thing clear; attitude mattered far more than numbers, and Gibbons more than met the benchmark there.

“My initial reaction, even when I was just nominated for captain, it took me a minute and made me think about how people saw me as a leader,” she said. “I kind of knew I had some leadership qualities, but I didn’t necessarily know how it was seen by the team. I was really honored that people would see me in such a position, and since then I’ve embraced that.”

Making the situation even more unconventional is the fact that, unlike the 2006 team that had only two seniors on the roster, it’s not like there was any shortage of seniors who would’ve met the qualifications.

Senior catcher Jurie Joyner is a three-time All-Ivy selection and former Ivy League Rookie of the Year, who entered this season already ranked in the top 10 in school history in home runs and batting average. 

Senior third baseman Molly Oretsky had a stellar junior season, finishing with a .339/.409/.558 batting line and ranking alongside Allen and Joyner as one of the team’s clear top three hitters.

Finally, senior pitcher Mason Spichiger actually was a captain herself last year, and has been the team’s ace pitcher following Sargent’s graduation, leading the 2018 Quakers in earned run average (4.60), innings pitched (58.2), starts (nine), and wins (three).

But if there was any shock at the announcement that there would be three underclass captains — sophomore Corey Burrough was also named a captain last summer, though she is no longer listed on the roster — that was put to bed quickly.

“[The seniors are] some of the most graceful people I’ve ever met in my life. I don’t think us stepping in as captains was anything that any person took to heart, nothing negative toward us at all,” Gibbons said. “They supported us 100 percent of the way, they gave us the confidence we needed, gave us the advice we needed, and when I’m making decisions I still go to them.

“They’re still our leaders. They don’t have the title [of captain], but they’re the ones that really keep us going for sure.”

Though the Quakers struggled early, winning only four of their first 18 games, it’s clear that this group is hitting its stride right now, having won seven of its last eight games.

But no matter how this season ends up, the Quakers have an edge moving forward. Their younger generation has taken over, and that ascent shows no signs of slowing down.

“This year has been a rollercoaster, a lot of growing pains, but you can see in our wins how we’ve progressed,” Gibbons said. “Didn’t do so hot at the beginning of the year, but now we’re finally learning, going through those experiences together and getting better.

“Next year, it’s gonna be a force to reckon with for sure.”