Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass softball fills holes left by seniors with freshmen for 2017

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Judith Gibson-Okunieff/Collegian

Coming into the season, the Massachusetts softball team had holes to fill after seniors Taylor Carbone, Olivia Godin and Lindsey Zenk all graduated after the 2016 campaign. UMass coach Kristi Stefanoni filled it with seven freshmen.

This is the youngest team Stefanoni has coached at UMass and in order to do so successfully, she says she has had to take a few steps back while coaching them thus far early in the season.

“These kids have not experienced college ball yet,” Stefanoni said. “Having patience with them is key, and knowing it’s their first time out there, they don’t really know what to expect of themselves.”

During fall ball, senior shortstop Jena Cozza tore her anterior cruciate ligament (ACL) and will be out for the remainder of the season, but freshman Candace Davis is ready to take her place.

According to Stefanoni, Davis has the best speed on the team and is looking forward to seeing what she can do for the Minutewomen if she is moved up in the lineup near sophomore leadoff hitter Erin Stacevicz.

“Her base running is absolutely incredible,” Stefanoni said. “On paper it looks like she stole two bases, but she should’ve gotten three. Her ability to read a defense and a pitcher and a catcher and how they sit back and don’t pay attention is unbelievable for such a young kid.”

Freshman pitcher Quinn Breidenbach was one of three pitchers Stefanoni recruited in the offseason. Breidenbach, a native of Enumclaw, Washington, was a 3A South Puget Sound League All-Star and Gatorade Player of the Year in 2016 when she posted a 15-3 record and a 0.74 ERA.

Breidenbach also struck out 789 batters throughout her high school career, and despite receiving numerous offers, she opted to take her talents to Amherst and join the Minutewomen and their high-quality coaching staff .

“I really liked the coaching staff, I really liked the family-oriented feeling,” Breidenbach said. “[They have a] really good kinesiology program here. I walked onto campus and I just knew. I walked in with the teammates and I knew this is where I wanted to play. The tradition and everything, it felt right.”

All three freshmen pitchers that the Minutewomen recruited are different, and bring unique, individual approaches in the pitching circle.

“All three of them are completely different,” Stefanoni said. “Whether it’s spin, speed, they’re all very different. Basically how we used them this weekend was based on what type of offense we were facing and then who we thought was in a really good mind set.”

Breidenbach looks to get most of the action in the circle behind junior ace Meg Colleran, an idol of Breidenbach throughout her senior year of high school.

“Megan is literally my idol,” Breidenbach said. “Watching and following her pitch as the only pitcher here last season, I have such high regards for her. She has done so well for this program and she is definitely a person you want to follow.”

With Carbone graduating in 2016, there are now positions that need to be filled in both the starting lineup as a power-threat and in the field at first base.

Sophomore Mellissa Garcia could fill the role with her seniority on the team, but a more likely possibility is a five-year varsity star from Merrick, New York, Nicole Imhof.

Imhof was her high school team’s most valuable player from 2014-16, all-county player from 2012-16 and all-long Island player in 2016. She was also a Top 100 player on Long Island 2014-16.

“Putting on that jersey was one of the greatest moments of my life,” Imhof said of becoming a Minutewomen. “Being able to go out there and work hard with my teammates is something I could never have imagined.”

Coming into the season, UMass uses the phrase “Grit, Intimidation and Hustle” as its motto that guides the Minutewomen through the season and helps them to play up to their potential every game.

Each player has a different take on what the words mean, but Stefanoni, perhaps, put it best out of anyone.

“I told them they needed to come up with our code, our mission, the way we’re going to walk around, the way people are going to remember us,” Stefanoni said. “When they go out to play, those are the words they want people to think about when they left the field or if someone was just watching them. “I’m hoping those three words will carry over into the next few weeks and help us out a lot.”

Zander Manning can be reached at [email protected], and followed on Twitter @ZMSportsReport.

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