Massachusetts Daily Collegian

UMass softball heads to Orlando for third of five early-season tournaments

Notre Dame, Czech National Team on the schedule

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(Collegian file photo)

(Collegian file photo)

(Collegian file photo)

By Amin Touri, Assistant Sports Editor

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With two weeks off between games, the Massachusetts softball team heads to Florida this weekend to play the third of five early-season tournaments, riding a four-game win streak into Orlando.

UMass’ biggest test of the weekend comes in the very first game, as the Minutewomen (5-4) take on Notre Dame (7-7) to kick things off. The Irish were at the edges of the NCAA softball rankings just last week but dropped from the No. 25 spot after going 0-3 through a trio of tough tests in No. 12 Auburn, No. 6 Texas A&M and No. 1 Washington.

Notre Dame and Florida International are the teams on this weekend’s schedule that garner the most interest from UMass.

“I think if you were to poll [the players], they’d say Notre Dame,” said UMass coach Kristi Stefanoni. “They’re still receiving votes—FIU is receiving votes—I think the two of them are the two games I would highlight and they would highlight, just because they’re receiving votes and gives us a little more motivation going into the weekend.”

Despite the tough results last weekend, the Irish have already logged quality wins this season over No. 19 Michigan and No. 14 Minnesota, including two victories over the latter.

“We’re excited to start off with Notre Dame,” said junior Kaitlyn Stavinoha. “They’ve had a good season so far, they’re a good team, they have some good pitching, so I think it’s going to be fun to see what we can do against them. They’ve beaten some good teams, so it’s going to be a good game for sure.”

The Diamond 9 Citrus Classic begins on Friday, and is the first tournament of the season in which Stefanoni got to choose the team’s schedule herself. She took on the two biggest tests in the field in Notre Dame and FIU, as well as a game against the Czech Republic women’s national team on Saturday.

“We’re just taking it one weekend at a time, one game at a time, and trying to be as competitive as we possibly can be,” Stefanoni said. “We’re always telling them that we want to be playing above our competition level, knowing full well that the gate for us to get into the NCAA tournament is winning the conference tournament. So these games are about getting us in the best possible place for us come opening weekend in March against La Salle.”

Having won its last four games, UMass is in a better spot through three weeks than last season when it opened the year with two wins followed by ten consecutive losses, and the team’s mood is reflective of that positivity.

“The mood’s good,” Stavinoha said. “We obviously had a good tournament two weekends ago. We had this weekend off, so we’re ready to just get back on the field and see what we got. It’s good, good vibes.”

Keeping the ball rolling into this weekend is a big focus for a team looking to put together a much-improved non-conference slate this time around.

“I think we’re just keeping in mind that we did go 4-1 last weekend,” said Colleran. “We’re using that as motivation. We still dropped that first game, and we could’ve won if we played better, so we’re just focused on that and on improving.”

The Minutewomen took advantage of this week’s warm weather, finally getting outside for practice to prepare for the weekend’s tough tests.

“We’ve just had some good practices this week, some hard practices,” Stavinoha said, “making sure that we’re always getting better on some little things. We’re just trying to keep it fun, keep it light, make sure everyone’s pumped and ready to go this weekend.”

UMass will take on Notre Dame and Delaware on Friday, FIU and the Czech national team on Saturday, before finishing off with UC Santa Barbara on Sunday morning.

Amin Touri can be reached at [email protected], and followed on Twitter @Amin_Touri.

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