The Massachusetts softball team’s 2013 season is set to begin this weekend with a five-game tournament slate at the annual FAU Kick-Off Classic, and the Minutewomen are looking to have another great year after winning their 23rd Atlantic 10 Championship last year.
More than 80 percent of UMass’ roster will be returning this year, including All-American left fielder Cyndil Matthew, who last year ranked 37th in the country in batting average, seventh in steals and triples and 20th in runs scored.
Matthew will be joined in the outfield by co-captains Katie Bettencourt and Christine Della Vecchia. Minutewomen coach Elaine Sortino, who is entering her 34th season with the team and for whom the UMass Softball Complex was re-named this past October, said the team could have one of the best outfields in the country this season.
Although many players will be returning from last year, the Minutewomen will be missing All-American pitcher Sara Plourde, who last year started in all but five of the team’s games and finished with a 36-1 record, a 1.77 ERA and 351 strikeouts before graduating and being drafted by the Carolina Diamonds of National Pro Fastpitch.
This year, UMass’ rotation will consist of Lindsey Webster, who pitched in one game last year, allowing three runs in five and two-thirds innings; Bridget Lemire, who started in four games last year and finished with a 1-2 record and a 7.09 ERA; Caroline Raymond, who did not play last year due to injury; and Emma Mendoker, a transfer student from East Carolina who was red-shirted as a freshman last year.
Sortino said the transition could be tough for the pitchers, but she believes they will rise to the challenge.
“It might be a little rough going at the beginning, but all four of them work very hard,” she said. “They know the task at hand. They know opponents are going to be tough, especially at the (early) part of the season. So, it is what it is and we’ve got a lot of work to do.”
Along with Mendoker, there will be three other newcomers to the team. Infielder Whitney Cooper will be red-shirted this season due to a torn ACL. Taylor Carbone is another infielder that Sortino said has the potential to bring some power to the plate and fast hands to the infield. Rounding out the incoming freshman is Olivia Godin, a catcher who will be competing with Samantha Gray for the starting spot after the graduation of last year’s starting catcher Stephanie Mayne.
Sortino said that one of the team’s greatest strengths is the players’ tenacity and their work ethic.
“I’ve coached a long time here, and you have a sense of the work ethic of a team, and the sense of this team’s work ethic is extraordinary,” she said. “This team, wall-to-wall, brings a tremendous work ethic and a sense of blue collar UMass softball pride.”
The Minutewomen will begin the season at the Kick-Off Classic in Boca Raton, Fla., with a double-header against LIU Brooklyn and Toledo on Friday. Sortino said the first games will be a good opportunity to see where the team is at right now.
“I think we’re going to get a great assessment on the first day of what our strengths and weaknesses are, and I think this team is really ready to get out and compete,” she said. “They’ve been working very hard the last five or six weeks, and I think it’s time to play. I think it’s going to do us good to get out and see who we are and what we can do.”
Jesse Mayfield-Sheehan can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter at @jgms88.