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UMass softball focuses on mental approach ahead of Madeira Beach Invitational

Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Collegian

With Sortino Field still covered in a blanket of snow, the Massachusetts softball team plays its first game of the season this Friday versus Robert Morris at 2 p.m.

While the game is technically a home game for UMass, the Minutewomen will play in Madeira Beach, Florida, as a part of the Madeira Beach Invitational—the first of five preseason tournaments UMass will play before it opens the Atlantic 10 play against St. Bonaventure in Amherst March 25.

Two weeks before the tournament, the Minutewomen were able to practice outdoors to get a feel for what it would be like to practice on a full-length field, as opposed to practicing in Boyden Gymnasium, where there are height and length restrictions.

“Fortunately, we’ve been able to get outside at McGuirk [Stadium] for a couple practices to kind of prep for full-field, full scrimmage, it’s helped the outfield,” UMass coach Kristi Stefanoni said. “We’ve done a lot of different things.”

The main focus for Stefanoni and her staff so far has not been on-field play as much as it has been on the mental aspect of the game. She has taken the team to an escape room at Puzzled Escape Games in Easthampton and to a bowling alley in Northampton to help the team to work on their mental abilities, as opposed to their physical abilities.

“I think we did it mostly to get a better pulse with the team and so they can have a better pulse with each other,” said Stefanoni, who is in her fourth year coaching UMass. “I think it was a huge part of our team that was missing. The mental part of our game was really lagging behind how we approached situations and how we handled the pace of the game.”

Aside from working on the mental part of the game, Stefanoni and her staff have also worked on normal softball conditioning skills during practices such as abdominal workouts and batting practice in the batting cages at Boyden.

While practicing outside, however, Stefanoni said the team has worked on all aspects of the game. She says they have even played a full scrimmage under the lights.

Stefanoni felt playing under the lights was an essential part of practice considering that the team will play night games both during preseason tournaments and throughout the regular season.

Another part of the mental game that Stefanoni has worked on with the team is stress and how to manage it throughout the duration of the season.

“I use very loosely the ‘stress’ of the game, I try to keep that word out of our vocabulary,” Stefanoni said. “[We’ve been] trying to tell them it’s okay to feel anxious, it’s okay to feel stressed, but how do we manage that? It’s okay for your heart to beat really fast during an at-bat or in the field, just take that as, it’s not a bad thing, but how can we manage it and how can we learn the steps of that earlier will be very helpful.”

With first pitch one day away, Stefanoni says she and the Minutewomen are anxious to get the season going.

“I can say that I’m very excited to see what this group has,” Stefanoni said. “I don’t know what we have. We’re young. The majority of us are freshmen and sophomores, so it’ll be interesting, but I am very excited to get going. I’m getting cabin fever.”

 Zander Manning can be reached at alexanderman@umass.edu and followed on Twitter @ZMSportsReport.

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