The baseball and softball teams are aiming for another year of success amid conference changes. The Great Lakes Valley Conference has changed its format for this upcoming season ridding itself of the Eastern and Western divisions which previously divided the conference. Head Baseball Coach Al Ready said that the changes helped strengthen of the conference.
“The GLVC is not slouch in baseball. It’s one of the largest, if not the largest Division II conferences in the country,” Ready said. “…the old East was a gauntlet to go through. I think the three game series will help. We used to play four game series for conference up until this year and I think that will help even things out since they’ve done away with divisions.”
According to Ready, the team bolstered their pitching staff over the offseason by bringing in freshmen to support their older pitchers. Ready said the new way the conference is done will help even out on the pitching side. Senior pitcher Jake Sprinkle said he is benefiting from the newer faces on the team and he was happy to see the amount of competition between the freshmen.
“It’s really good when you have a lot of freshmen and younger guys because the competition level just rises so much,” Sprinkle said. “…When we’re having scrimmages against our own team, we have guys out there that are throwing that are freshmen with no experience that are just shoving it down our hitters throats and senior hitter they’re striking them out and it’s just great to see that and to see the competition level that we’ve seen so far has been amazing.”
Along with the conference changes, The baseball team is in a transition year with the former head coach Gary Vaught retiring at the end of last season and Ready stepping into the role. Ready said he has a past with the program previously playing for UIndy and moving into an assistant coach role later in his career. Ready said it’s not his goal to change what Vaught had established, but instead to build upon it.
“I told the players when I first got announced as the head coach, my goal was not to scrap everything that we’ve done for 20 years. My goal was to build on Coach Vaught’s legacy,” Ready said. “The program would not be close to what it is today without the Bill Wrights and the Gary Vaughts that came before me. I want to build on that legacy and make it better, better and better. That was our message to the players, and they’ve all been on board with it. We had a great fall, it’s been a great spring so far, I can’t wait to get started in a couple weeks.”
Both Sprinkle and Ready described the goals of the team, which is to take advantage of the experience on the team and work towards a conference championship and eventually making it into the regional tournament.
“We have six returning starting position players from a team that can hit. We could hit last year, we made it to the GLVC conference title game last year, we swung the bats, we got hot at the right time and we can hit,” Ready said. “Because we have so many returning guys, my expectation is that we’re going to score some runs, maybe not necessarily at the rate we did last year, but we’re gonna score enough to win some games.”
The softball team has also set their goal high with Head Coach Melissa Frost declaring it to be one of the top programs in the nation. The team was ranked 4th in the preseason poll by all the GLVC coaches which Frost said works as motivation to get better for the team.
“I think we’re a great ball club, well put together. We didn’t have a great showing last year and I think as a result of that is why we’re ranked fourth in the GLVC,” Frost said.“So it’s always motivation to be a No. 1 and always motivation to get better, that’s exactly what we’re going to use it as.”
The team has their entire pitching staff returning with only one new face joining the roster, freshman pitcher Amy Kaniweski. The team also has its back-to-back team MVP returning, senior third basemen Taylor Podschweit who said that the expectations are high for her this season.
“Personally, I like to set my expectations a little bit high, I like to be one of the leaders on the team, somebody that the team can look up to and really lead by example,” Podschweit said. “Really just putting in the work that needs to be done for me to get back to where I was last year and hopefully being more successful than that as well.”
Podschweit led the team last year, statistically on base with slugging at .924, RBIs with 54, and home runs with seven. Podschweit said she still has room to improve, however, she has a strategy on how she is going to accomplish that.
“One of my personal goals would be to constantly improve from last year, I think last year was a little bit better than the year before,” Podschweit said. “A personal goal of mine would be a little bit more selective at the plate. Be a little bit more patient at the plate while hitting and just being one of the forces in the GLVC, and hopefully the nation too.”