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Monday, August 24, 2015

UMass softball uses early-season road trips to build chemistry

(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

(Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian)

For most New Englanders, a trip to Florida is the epitome of a well-deserved break.

Some enjoy relaxing on the beach, others like to play golf on Florida’s finest courses and there are even those who will attempt to ride each roller coaster at all five of Disney World’s parks.

But for the Massachusetts softball team, a visit to Florida is all about business.

On Feb. 21, the Minutewomen flew to Clearwater, Fla., for their first five games of the season. Despite being within driving distance to both Busch Gardens and Adventure Island, UMass opted to focus on being student-athletes.

Although they were 1,315 miles away from their classrooms in Amherst, the team “is a very well rounded group of players that take their academics very seriously,” UMass coach Kristi Stefanoni said.

Stefanoni emphasized that her players attend UMass for academics and are aware that schoolwork is their first priority. They are in constant contact with their professors and their professors even work to accommodate the team’s demanding travel schedule.

While on the road, Stefanoni hosted study halls in her hotel room for a couple of hours after games were finished. Assistant coach Staci Ramsey also hosted study hall on occasion. “One to two hours of quiet study time away from the TV and from sitting on a bed allow the girls to gather themselves and focus on their studies,” Stefanoni said.

Although Stefanoni emphasized that traveling to Florida was a business trip, there were times when the coaching staff treated the team in order to reward them for their hard work and encourage team bonding.

“After our first afternoon practice, we took them to the beach for dinner and a walk,” she said. Stefanoni added that road trips generally include little free time, but “on this instance that we did, I thought they deserved a chance to put their feet in the sand and have a really nice dinner while enjoying each other.”

However, the short period of free time that the Minutewomen spent by the Florida coast only accounts for a tiny interval of time that the team spends together in a non-softball setting. Whether it is the bus ride to the airport, waiting to board the plane in the terminal, the three-hour flight to Florida, team meals, down time in the hotel or even collaboration on school work, the extra moments only help build team chemistry.

Despite having to cancel their first trip to Boca Raton, a weekend usually gauged to see how the roster fits together, Stefanoni emphasized that the road trips do a lot for the team.

“Our team chemistry is great, we have great leadership in our junior and senior class and everybody is working towards the big ultimate goal to make sure we are where we want to be in May,” she said. “I think that those away trips really help us out big time as the team spends more time with each other. The trips have done really great things for the team so far.”

The Minutewomen first took to playing on dirt and grass on their road trips, which, according to Stefanoni, has been tough because the team has been unable to play on their own field in Amherst.

However, Stefanoni believes that “the trips prepared us as best as they possibly could.”

Although being back in New England is certainly no vacation, the Minutewomen will look to capitalize on their newfound chemistry coupled with their business trip mentality to spark success.

Matthew Zackman can be reached at mzackman@umass.edu.

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