NEW YORK – The Columbia softball team begins the 2017 season Friday and Saturday at the EMU Madeira Beach Invitational in Madeira Beach, Florida. The Lions open play Friday at 4 p.m. with a doubleheader against Army West Point and Albany. Saturday, Columbia plays another doubleheader against tournament host Eastern Michigan and Kent State, beginning at 11 a.m.
2017 SEASON PREVIEW
The Lions are led by third-year head coach Jennifer Teague, who welcomes her largest recruiting class since taking over in July of 2014.
“This class is special – we’re bringing in a third of a new team,” said Teague, whose program ushers in seven newcomers. “We’re really looking for them to contribute right away. In fact, we’ll have a freshman in the circle down in Florida this weekend. I’m excited about the youth of our team.”
“Taylor and Maddie are the heartbeat of the team,” Teague stated. “They were captains last year as sophomores. We don’t have captains this year, because we’re going with the mentality that there are different leaders in different aspects. We need everyone to be a leader at certain times.”
Columbia is coming off back-to-back 16-win seasons, which both included 7-13 marks in Ivy League play. However, Teague’s expectations are to make a big turn with the help of added depth.
“I want to see us finish among the top three in the conference,” Teague went on to say. “I think what Princeton did last year is a great example for the message I want to deliver to our team. If you peak at the right time, anybody can win.”
The Lions return all of their starters from a season ago. In addition to Troutt and Gott are senior first baseman Kerry Cook, junior Maura Lynch, and cast of sophomores in Reilly Metzger, Alexandra Yule, Jordan Townsend and Krystin Wong. Wong was an Honorable Mention All-Ivy League selection last season, hitting .314 in league play.
In the circle, senior hurler Tonia Wu returns healthy after an injury-plagued junior campaign. Wu posted a team-best 3.81 ERA in 22 appearances last year, including eight complete games and a 3.09 strikeout-to-walk ratio. Lynch is the only other returner who made an appearance in the circle last season. They will be joined by newcomers Madison Canby and Erin Gallo.
“Our goal for this program is to be one of the top teams in the conference every year,” added Teague. “I think we’re going to take big turn toward that goal this year. We talk all the time about winning the Ivy League championship, which is at the top of the goal list, but I want to see us get into that top three first. If you’re in the mix, you have a shot.”
Troutt and Gott echoed their head coach’s expectations.
“We need to trust the process and be invested game by game, practice by practice and weekend by weekend,” said Troutt, who was also named Honorable Mention All-ivy League after hitting .360 with a program-record 10 home runs last season. “Ivy League champs is something we can do, but we can’t do it if we’re not focused on the little things together.”
“Winning the Ivy League is a realistic goal this year,” added Gott, who batted a team-best .323 during the 2016 Ivy League season. “With everyone working together and working as hard as they possibly can, we can definitely win the Ivy League.
PREVIEWING OPENING WEEKEND
Columbia returns to the EMU Madeira Beach Invitational after a one-year hiatus. The Lions opened the 2015 season at the tournament, posting a 14-6 victory over Siena, Teague’s first coaching win with the Lions.
Columbia opens the 2017 slate Friday afternoon with a doubleheader against Army West Point (2-3) and Albany (0-0). Teague thinks the Friday schedule worked out well for Columbia’s first games of the season.
“I think our first day is the best-case scenario,” Teague said. “Army last played in a tournament two weeks ago and this will be Albany’s first time out. The biggest thing about this weekend is getting rid of first-game jitters. It will be good for all of us to get our jitters out together.”
Saturday’s games appear to present the bigger challenge. Eastern Michigan (3-3) scored victories over Boston U, Siena and Robert Morris last weekend, while suffering one-run losses to Villanova and Quinnipiac. The Eagles play a Wednesday evening game at No. 25 South Florida before returning to Madeira Beach to host the second weekend of their tournament. Meanwhile, Kent State (4-5) has already played nine games heading into the weekend. Three of the Golden Flashes’ losses have come by one run, including a 4-3 defeat to No. 7 Oregon and an 8-7 loss to No. 22 Cal.
Even with all the competition on opening weekend, Teague maintains a positive outlook for her young team.
“I like my team this weekend,” the head coach added. “If they can play how they’ve been practicing, we’re in good shape. All of the pieces have to come together.”