WILLIAMSTOWN, MA — There are a lot of expectations, hope, and hype surrounding the talented 2019 Williams College softball team. It is currently ranked No. 10 in the latest NFCA Div. III Top 25 poll, one year after finishing with a 39-8 record, while setting single-season records for victories, runs scored, doubles, home runs, walks and RBI.
But none of this affects the way those Ephs and head coach Kris Herman prepare and plan for the upcoming campaign, Herman's 16th one at Williams and 32nd overall.
"We want to compete for championships," Herman said. "We did not win the Little 3 last year, so that would be important. We'd like to defend the NESCAC title. But outcome goals are not what we're super focused on. Our focus is on our day to day preparation and improvement in addition to constantly sharpening our skills."
The Ephs have 11 players returning from the record-setting 2018 squad, one which claimed a NESCAC title, won an NCAA regional, but ultimately fell in the third game of a super regional againt M.I.T. in a best-of-three series played at Cole Field. Among those players back is senior Mackenzie Murphy, an NFCA All-American who went 16-1 from the circle while clubbing 12 home runs and driving in 40 despite missing nine games with an injury. She heads a senior class of 5 Ephs who have already won 112 games in their careers. Shortstop Jessica Kim was an All-NESCAC selection a year ago at shortstop after batting .338 with a team-high 47 runs scored and 12 stolen bases; Casey Pelz batted .291 as a junior playing third and first base; Kristina Alvarado is a dynamic center fielder and Jill Jenkin is looking forward to playing a more pivotal role after battling through injuries her first three seasons.
Pelz and Kim will serve as the team captains for 2019.
Juniors Kirstin Mapes and Rebecca Duncan were both NFCA All-Region selections as sophomores in 2018. Mapes had a career-best 10 home runs along with 43 RBI and a .362 average from the designated player position. She is also part of a five-person formidable Eph contingent from the circle, where she went 5-1 with a 3.06 ERA last season. In addition to being tabbed all-region by the NFCA, Duncan was chosen the NESCAC 2018 Pitcher of the Year after going 17-5 with a 1.72 ERA over a career-high 134 2/3 innings pitched. She walked only 29 batters while striking out 142. Duncan can play the outfield or infield when not pitching, proven by her .341 average last season with a .426 on-base percentage to boot. She smacked five home runs and drove home 27 runs as well.
Two other juniors complement the squad: Riley Salvo saw time at the corners last year but is competing for the starting catcher's spot vacated by All-American and Eph leader Lexi Curt. Salvo batted .301 with eight doubles and 16 RBI last season. Southpaw Emma Corbett is fighting for time in the circle, she appeared there five times in 2018, starting three games and winning one.
The sophomore class consists of Dacia Green, Jenny Hickey and Gabi Medvene-Cirigliano. Hickey saw action in 40 games last season, mostly as an outfielder, but has a shot at taking over second base for the departed Brenna Martinez; Medvene-Cirigliano played in 12 games as an outfielder/designated player and could help replace Margo Beck in right field; while Green saw action all over the diamond but will be one of the candidates for time behind the dish.
The Ephs first-year class is comprised of Rachel Neugart, Mara Kipnis, Azaria Vargas and Maya Hartman. Neugart is a true utility player in that she excels all around the diamond, but will be the third person attempting to win the starting catcher's job. Hartman is a pitcher, and Kipnis and Vargas can play outfield or infield.
"We have five pitchers, so that is a very deep pitching staff," Herman noted. "and we can hit. Clearly we lost a lot of power with the Class of 2018, but whether we are playing to manufacture runs or to hit for power, we will be up there taking our hacks."
The NESCAC and New England Regional will certainly put the Ephs to the test. M.I.T. is ranked No. 5 in the country, and NESCAC powers Amherst and Tufts figure to put together strong seasons as well. The NESCAC West, with Middlebury and Hamilton improving, will also prove to be a difficult test.
"I want us to take pride in how we work to get better every day day," Herman said. "We don't really want to set expectations, because we do not want to be limited by those expectations."
The Ephs open the 2019 campaign Sunday at 4 p.m. EST. with a doubleheader against Chapman University.