Sometimes, a season isn’t all about winning.
On paper, it's evident that 2023 hasn’t gone in Penn softball’s favor. After longtime coach Leslie King retired three months ago, the Quakers started the season with the longest losing streak in program history at 19 games. The team currently sits at the bottom of Ivy League standings with a dismal 3-30 record, having only won one conference game this year.
Needless to say, disastrous starts like that are hard to come back from. With Ivy play halfway complete and 12 games left to go, getting to the Ivy League Softball Tournament — the Ancient Eight’s newly expanded postseason format — is all but impossible for the Quakers.
As Penn heads toward its worst season finish in over 30 years, the question on everyone’s minds is clear: what is going wrong?
Its answer, however, is not.
Whatever the problem is, it doesn’t lie with the offense. As a whole, the team is batting .234, keeping them neck-and-neck with the rest of the Ancient Eight. Aggressive base running has also aided in the Quakers’ offensive performance, going 26-for-33 thus far in stolen base attempts.
You can’t discuss the Quaker offense, though, without highlighting the efforts of Sarah Schneider. The senior catcher is having a stellar season, currently hitting .326 with 16 RBIs and four home runs. She sits in the top 10 of multiple conference batting statistics and shouldn't be cooling off anytime soon.
Penn's struggles can’t be blamed on its pitching, either. The starting rotation of Kelly Zybura, Payton Bean, and Rachel Riley has been working overtime this year as injuries have kept other pitchers off the mound. Zybura and Riley have pitched the second and eighth, respectively, most innings in the Ivy League — showing the constraints of a small pitching staff on the team.
Additionally, the rotation itself is quite young; Zybura is a freshman, while Bean and Riley are sophomores. Zybura in particular has shown dramatic improvement down the stretch, notching nine games this season in which she pitched at least six innings. The pitching staff is already putting in the work to improve, and they have lots of time to achieve it moving forward.
If a problem can be identified, then, it’s the defense; the team leads the Ivy League with 43 errors. Its .952 fielding percentage ranks at the bottom of the Ancient Eight standings, but not by much.
Let me make one thing clear, though — this is not a bad team. It just needs time to grow.
In its recent matches, Penn has shown the grit and determination of a winning team. Its sole conference win of the season came against Princeton, which won the Ivy League last year and is well on its way to repeating as champions. The toughness that earned the Quakers that win has appeared frequently in recent games, as this weekend’s series finale at Yale was the first time Penn limited the opposing team to one run all season.
Additionally, Penn has shown its dedication to staying in the game until the very end. While their early losses were riddled with shutouts, the Quakers have put the ball in play much more in later innings as the season has progressed.
As the season begins to wind down, Penn has a lot to look forward to. While the loss of Schneider will impact the program, the catcher is one of only three seniors graduating this year. With the majority of its starters returning combined with a young pitching staff, Penn will have a great amount of consistency to carry into next year.
This season will not be remembered as the greatest in Penn softball history, but it will be remembered for the determination the team showed in the face of adversity. Amid countless struggles on the field this season, the Quakers show promise for the future as they learn to adapt to a new coaching staff and playing environment.
Mark my words: Penn softball will be back on top soon. It may not be tomorrow, but with time, the Quakers will be a force to be reckoned with.
ALLYSON NELSON is a junior sports reporter studying English and American history from Philadelphia. All comments should be directed to email@example.com.