UMass softball ready to finally win the Atlantic 10

Minutewomen picked as the favorites in preseason poll

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UMass softball ready to finally win the Atlantic 10

(Collegian File Photo)

(Collegian File Photo)

(Collegian File Photo)

(Collegian File Photo)

By Javier Melo, Collegian Staff

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After a long offseason of picking themselves back up, reflection and reloading on talent, the Massachusetts softball team is back and they are hungry to be better than ever.

The Minutewomen were within a few runs of winning the Atlantic 10 last season, falling to Fordham 6-4 in the championship game. UMass was on fire last season, going a perfect 21-0 in the conference and winning 35 games overall, the team’s most since 2012. Rebounding from such a heartbreaking defeat isn’t always easy, but the Minutewomen are determined to complete the quest they started last season.

“I think the expectations are pretty high for this season,” UMass coach Kristi Stefanoni said. “We’ve been talking bigger picture with what our big goal is and our number one goal is first to qualify for the conference tournament and be the one seed; and then to win the conference tournament.”

The Minutewomen have high expectations, and apparently, so do the polls, which picked the  Minutewomen as the favorites to win the A-10. After a flawless conference record and the best season for the program since winning the A-10 back in 2012, there is certainly a focus on UMass heading into the season.

“Yes, I think so. Absolutely,” said Stefanoni about whether she believes the team has a target on their backs. “I think it’s to be expected. It kind of was the same for us a year ago when Fordham was picked number one. I think that target was on their back. Yes, I do think that this year it’s our turn.”

Since taking over as a full-time head coach in 2015, Stefanoni has helped the program improve its record every season. The target is on their back, but the Minutewomen have their sights set on Fordham.

After undergoing a coaching change this offseason that saw coach Bridget Orchard depart from the program, the Rams find themselves tied for second in the conference in the preseason polls. Fordham is as beatable as they have been during this run of six straight conference titles, and the Minutewomen will look to pounce at the opportunity to beat them.

Winning won’t come easy, however. The Minutewomen are without star players Jena Cozza, who won A-10 player of the year, and Meg Colleran, an all-tournament player, both of whom graduated. UMass will turn the keys over officially to seniors Kaitlyn Stavinoha, Erin Stacevicz and Melissa Garcia, who were all first team all-conference, as well as Kaycee Carbone, who was second team all-conference.

These seniors, along with sophomore Kiara Oliver, who was A-10 pitcher of the year, will look to take control of the big moments and make the most out of a roster that is as talented as the best teams the program has ever seen.

UMass is currently 1-5 as they adjust to weekend tournaments. The next few weeks will be about gelling before making the push when conference play begins. There is a lot of potential on this year’s UMass team, and the squad knows it.

“Our senior class is a really tight-knit class,” Stacevicz said. “Throughout all four years we’ve been really close. I feel like our senior class is kind of the backbone to this team. Everyone falls back on us. I feel like we’re the leaders on this team and we have been for a really long time, so this is our year to really bring it home this year.”

The seniors will also be flanked by a strong freshmen class that boasts an incredible array of talent. The incoming freshmen class is littered with All-State performers who will fill positions of need for the team for years to come.

Last year’s phenomenal group of freshmen, highlighted by Oliver and All-Rookie team member Amy Smith, will enter the season as the most important cogs of the team’s future. The future is bright for the program, but the present is what this roster cares about.

“Last year, going 21-0 in the conference is really impressive, but our end goal is to win the A-10 tournament,” Stacevicz said.

The Minutewomen are no longer underdogs. They will no longer live in the shadow of Fordham. UMass is hungry to avenge their loss in the championship game. They are the favorites. They are the top program entering the season. And they know it.

The goal for this season is simple: win it all.

Javier Melo can be reached at [email protected] and followed on Twitter @JMeloSports.