Kristina Kim

In recent history, the Yale softball team has been consistent in its Ivy League performance, winning either just four or five conference games for the past four seasons. Heading into the 2016 season, the Elis have a blank slate in front of them in their quest to grow as a program.

With a 5–14 Ivy League record last year, the Bulldogs actually improved in conference play from the previous season, in which they went 4–16 Ivy, despite slipping from third place in their division to last behind Brown. Though Yale (1–4, 0–0 Ivy) is now without star catcher and former Ivy League Player of the Year Sarah Onorato ’15, who graduated last year, the team holds hope for an upward trend this season. Talent spanning all class years, including former first-team All-Ivy infielder Lauren Delgadillo ’16, who is returning to the team after she was injured for much of last season, looks to bolster the team’s performance in 2016.

“We had some huge wins for our program last year, so I want to build off those wins and tack on a bunch more,” head coach Jen Goodwin said. “We have gotten better every year, so the sky is the limit this year.”

The potential of the team emanates from all of its parts. At the plate, Delgadillo will attempt to match her sophomore year performance, in which she batted 0.412 in Ivy play and tallied 19 RBI and three home runs on the season as a whole. Camille Weisenbach ’17, who led the team in batting average (0.315), hits (29) and RBI (18) as an outfielder last season, will transition to catcher for 2016 in the place of Onorato.

Weisenbach is one part of an Eli battery that shows strong promise early on in the season. Pitcher Francesca Casalino ’18 returns after tossing a team-high 101.1 innings last year and finishing with an earned run average of just 3.18 and striking out 6.4 batters per game.

Goodwin also noted that all players had an unprecedented chance to improve this preseason, as new batting cages in Payne Whitney Gymnasium allowed batters to take more swings in workouts. She said that the team has already shown improvement in its first five games of the season.

“Our ‘quality at-bats,’ a statistic we track so we stay focused on the process rather than the outcome, increased dramatically compared to our first weekend out last year, and we really battled at the plate,” Goodwin said.

A freshmen class that includes both notable pitchers and position players will also help boost the team’s talent stock. Terra Jerpbak ’19 will add depth to the pitching staff as the only left-handed hurler on the team after leading California’s Ponderosa High School in a playoff run during both her junior and senior years.

The class of 2019 also happens to be disproportionately left-handed at the plate. Of the four such batters on Yale’s roster, three are freshman, including outfielders Shelby Kennedy ’19 and Carlin Hagmaier ’19, and pitcher Jerpbak. Kennedy poses a challenge to pitchers from home plate and on the base paths, as she posted a 0.646 on-base percentage and scored 50 runs in her senior year at Cienega High School in Vail, Arizona.

The introduction of Kennedy may help resolve Yale’s problem with runners in scoring position last year. Yale had a better on-base percentage than Ivy League rival Princeton in 2015 but trailed in the runs category by 47. The inability to convert baserunners into runs will be an issue for Yale if it cannot reverse last year’s trend.

“I think we had many missed opportunities last year.” captain and outfielder Allie Souza ’16 said. “We had great talent but ultimately left too many runners on base to win those close games.”

So far, the newest members of the team have fit in well, according to Souza. Goodwin echoed these words, adding that “no team is tougher than this group.”

The Bulldogs’ work in nonconference play will prepare them for the 20-game Ivy League season, which begins April 1 against Columbia.

“My favorite time of the year is when Ivies get started,” Goodwin said. “Our league is so competitive and every game is a grind — this team will be relentless in their pursuit of the team goals.”

Before the Elis take on Ancient Eight opponents, they will face other competition both locally and out West. The first home game of the 2016 season will take place against Wagner on March 26.