UMass softball set to begin a new era

By Jason Kates

Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian
Cade Belisle/Daily Collegian

When the Massachusetts softball team takes the field this Friday in Boca Raton, Fla., Kristi Stefanoni will be leading the Minutewomen in her first year as interim head coach.

After the passing of UMass coaching legend Elaine Sortino this August, it was Stefanoni who got the call from Athletic Director John McCutcheon to take the reins.

“It is an absolute honor that I have been chosen for this position,” said Stefanoni, who served as an assistant under Sortino for six years. “It’s not how I wanted it to happen unfortunately. I would rather have her here for the rest of my life than to have it go the way it went.”

As for making the transition to head coach, Stefanoni said it was a lot easier than expected, because of the role that Sortino, her mentor, had put her in for the two years that Sortino was sick.

“She had given me a lot more responsibility with the team when she was diagnosed (with cancer),” Stefanoni said. “It’ll be my second year coaching at third base, and I’ve also put myself in charge of the infield while Danielle (Henderson) is in charge of the outfield, so it should work out just fine.”

After closing out a disappointing year, in which the Minutewomen finished with an 18-25 record that included a 12-10 record in conference play, Stefanoni will be looking to her senior class to step up, as well as her incoming freshman class.

“We’ve got Caroline Raymond, Lindsey Webster, Maggie Quealy and Tiffany Meeks to take on those leaderships roles,” she said. “The four of them should be able to step up immediately, whether it’s vocally, offensively or defensively.”

With the key departures of Cyndil Matthew and Christine Della Vecchia leaving voids offensively, it will be up to Meeks and junior shortstop Quianna Diaz-Patterson to provide UMass with an offensive spark.

Diaz-Patterson finished last season with a 0.357 batting average and 46 hits. Meeks hopes to continue providing power for the Minutewomen after leading the team last year in doubles, home runs and runs batted in.

“With Staci (Ramsey) coming in as our hitting coach, she’s been great and has had us doing a lot of great things,” Meeks said. “In the end, I think everyone is gonna come alive and come into their own.”

On the defensive side, Raymond will once again assume the role of No. 1 pitcher for UMass. She made 35 appearances last year, compiling a 15-14 record with an ERA of 3.97 in 29 starts.

This year, there will be six new faces for the Minutewomen, including pitcher Dakota Smith-Porter and catcher Ashton Wince. Smith-Porter, a native of Montague, was a two-time ESPN Boston All-State selection, while Wince was a four-time Virginia Independent Schools First Team All-State selection in her hometown of Manassas, Va.

“I’m really looking for my freshman class to step up,” Stefanoni said. “I always tell them we didn’t bring them here to sit on the bench for the first year and figure things out. We brought in six of them to make an impact immediately and fill some roles.”

UMass to open season in Florida

If the weather cooperates, the Minutewomen will be traveling to Boca Raton to participate in the Florida Atlantic University Kickoff Classic, an event the team also competed in last year.

Their opponents will be Mississippi State, Maryland, Providence, Florida Atlantic and Long Island University – Brookyln. Stefanoni wants her team to go out and compete the way UMass softball is known to compete.

“This team has been prepared. We’ve been preparing since Jan. 7 to do what we need to do,” she said. “The only thing that I expect from them is to trust their preparations and just compete and do what they need to do to get the win.

“I am a little nervous, as I imagine anybody would be starting their first year, or their 35th year. I’m just going to trust my instincts out there and trust everything that (Sortino) has taught me since day one.”

Jason Kates can be reached at [email protected]