WILLIAMSTOWN, MA — 2017 was a season unlike any other in Williams softball history, with many program records falling and first-ever victories gained at the national championships in addition to NCAA Regional and Super Regionals won and a NESCAC championship to boot.
However, the pages turned from that storybook long ago, and Saturday the Ephs' will begin a new journey officially when they open with a doubleheader at the National Training Center in Clermont, Florida tomorrow.
"We had a great season last year, but it's a new year and we're excited to see how good we can be in 2018," head coach Kris Herman, back for her 15th season, said. "Our goal is to be as good as we can be in the moment each and every day. We need to work hard to be fully prepared for every moment. We have a lot of talent and a great work ethic, so we'll see what we can do with that."
Herman will have a cast of 16 student-athletes to work with, 12 of who played roles in the 2017 team setting a new school record for wins in a season with 38. A trio of accomplished senior captains in Lexi Curt, Margo Beck and Brenna Martinez will lead the team. Curt was a Third Team NFCA All-American and NESCAC Player of the Year in 2017 when she led the Ephs with 10 home runs and 36 RBI, while batting .352. Martinez hit a career-high .297 with four doubles, three home runs and 18 RBI and Beck provided more punch with five doubles and four home runs while driving in 14.
One of the strengths of this Williams team is its depth of talent, and that talent in spread out among all classes. The junior class consists of NFCA All-Region players Mackenzie Murphy and Jessica Kim along with stalwarts Casey Pelz and Kristina Alvarado. In addition Jill Jenkin, who has been limited by injury in her first two seasons as an Eph, is back and ready to contribute.
Kim batted a robust .374 last season with a .621 slugging percentage from her shortstop position. She scored a team-leading 45 runs while driving in 33. Murphy has been a dual threat since stepping onto campus, and batted .361 with a .632 slugging percentage in 2017 with 35 RBI and nine home runs. From the circle, she went 14-5 with a 2.50 ERA. Pelz, a corner infielder, batted .260 with four home runs and 19 RBI, while tying Curt for the team lead in walks with 17. Alvarado is a center fielder by trade, and hit .265 with five stolen bases.
The sophomore class is equally talented and led by 2017 NESCAC Rookie of the year and NFCA First Team All-New England selection Rebecca Duncan, another dual threat for Herman's Ephs. Duncan led the Ephs with a .384 batting average and a .672 slugging percentage while belting eight home runs and knocking in 23 runs.
The Ephs set a school record as a team with 48 home runs in 2017. Duncan was also a leader from the circle, going 16-5 with three saves and she posted a 1.51 ERA. In 139 innings pitched, she struck out 129 batters. Riley Salvo saw plenty of time at the hot corner and also a bit in the circle and classmate Emma Corbett was also a dual threat, hitting .286 in limited duty. Salvo batted .265 with seven doubles. Kirstin Mapes was slowed by an injury in her initial campaign but came to preseason healthy and should see more playing time.
The first year class has four newcomers: Cristine McElhinney, Gabi Medvene-Cirigliano, Jenny Hickey and Dacia Green. Their versatility will serve them well. Hickey, Medvene-Cirigliano and McElhinney will see time in the outfield. Hickey and McElhinney could see time at second base, with McElhinney also playing some short. Medvene-Cirigliano may also play some first base. In short, they fit in with the returners quite nicely.
"We will be mixing and matching," Herman said. "The goal is to put the right pieces together at the right time."
The Ephs will have their hands full in conference play, where they finished 11-1 last year. Amherst was 10-2, and both teams advanced to the College World Series, where Williams eventually eliminated the Mammoths, 4-1. In addition, Middlebury, Hamilton and Wesleyan are all much improved.
"The NESCAC is a lot better, a lot deeper, than it used to be," said Herman. "Every weekend, every game will be contested. The conference continues to get stronger, and having two teams advance to the national championship only enhances that reputation."
Williams opens its season Sunday, March 19th, in Clermont, Florida against Manchester at 9 a.m. and then the Ephs will play Fredonia at 11:30 a.m.