Courtesy of Yale Athletics

After its seventh straight losing season, the Yale softball team will kick off its 2017 campaign this week as it looks to attain a winning record and boost its standing in the Ivy League.

Last season represented a modest improvement over the team’s recent performance, as the Bulldogs posted a 9–11 Ivy League record, their best since 2009. However, the Elis were undone by their nonconference slate, which sank them to 18–31–1 overall. This year presents a prime opportunity for another climb up the standings, as each of the three All-Ivy players from 2016 — pitcher Lindsay Efflandt ’17, third baseman Allison Skinner ’18 and outfielder Sydney Glover ’17 — will return alongside a five-player freshman class for another season at DeWitt Family Field.

“Our goal is always to compete in every game we play in,” head coach Jen Goodwin said. “When it comes to the Ivy League, we feel we have the pieces in place this year to chase that title. If we focus on ourselves and what we are able to do, the sky is the limit.”

Yale’s 2016 campaign began in disappointing fashion, as the team quickly fell to a 4–14 record during a nearly month-long series of road trips. Though the Bulldogs picked up the pieces and rebounded with a more competitive 14–17–1 record over the final five weeks of competition, it was not nearly enough to put Yale into contention for the Ivy League title, which was ultimately captured by perennial powerhouse Princeton. Yale managed to leapfrog Brown, Columbia and Cornell in conference play after finishing dead last the year before, though a winning season remained elusive.

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Statistically, 2016 was discouraging for the Bulldogs overall. A teamwide batting average of 0.234 ranked 274th out of 290 Division I teams. Worse yet, the Elis lacked power at the plate, resulting in a 0.288 slugging percentage, the sixth-worst mark in Division I.

Yale fared better in the pitcher’s circle, producing a 3.45 earned run average, third best in the Ancient Eight, and a league-best 2.54 mark against conference opponents. Efflandt was named to the All-Ivy Second Team after pitching 145.1 innings in 36 appearances with the second-best ERA in Ivy League competition.

“Our coaches are really big on focusing on one game at a time,” Glover said. “In terms of the smaller goals, our main one is that we want every practice to be as game-like as possible. It’s really easy during practice to feel the energy dip down, so we’ve all challenged ourselves to take a step back and check where we mentally and physically feel like we are.”

Now a senior, Efflandt will return for the Bulldogs with Skinner and Glover, both honorable mentions to the All-Ivy team. Skinner was a bright spot at the plate in her sophomore campaign, leading the team with 21 runs batted in, two home runs and 11 doubles. Glover, despite appearing in just 36 games, scored 17 runs and notched five stolen bases.

Yale will need Glover’s speed on the base paths to return in 2017, as 22 of the Elis’ 37 stolen bags last season were recorded by now-graduated seniors, including 20 by shortstop Brittany Labbadia ’16.

Yale will also need its freshman class to provide some dynamism at the plate after last year’s lackluster showing. Utility player Giovy Webb ’20 comes to the Bulldogs after an impressive senior year at Carondelet High School, in which she posted a 0.951 on-base plus slugging percentage while leading her team in stolen bases. Joining her, fellow utility player Olivia Vinyard ’20 reached base in more than half of her at-bats during her senior campaign.

The Elis will also see a load taken off the shoulders of the pitching staff, as hurler Mary Baumann ’20 will become the fourth member of a bullpen that was burdened with injuries in 2016.

“Last year, I was hurt for most of the season,” pitcher Francesca Casalino ’18 said. “I was able to pitch through it, but it wasn’t to the extent that I was being an impact. Now we have four different pitchers, and that’s such a big difference. We’re all different in our pitches, so having so many different looks gives us some more variability in batting practice and in games.”

The Ivy League looks to be very competitive this season, with league powers Harvard, Princeton and Dartmouth having lost four, six and five seniors, respectively, after amassing a combined 45 wins in Ancient Eight competition. Yale, on the other hand, only lost three seniors who combined for just eight RBIs in conference play last year.

However, several extraordinary players will once again square off against the Bulldogs this season, including Harvard’s Maddy Kaplan, who led the Ivy League last season with a 0.472 batting average, and Princeton’s Kaitlyn Waslawski, who led the conference with 23 stolen bases.

But even with the experiential advantage, the Elis will face an uphill battle in cracking the upper echelon of the conference. Playing in the North division, Yale will take on Brown, Dartmouth and Harvard four times each. Dartmouth and Harvard, who last year finished six and seven games ahead of the Elis, respectively, will be difficult teams to catch. Moreover, Brown suffered even less attrition than Yale, graduating only one senior.

The Bulldogs start their 2017 season with a road trip to the Auburn Tournament in Auburn, Alabama on Feb. 24.