NEW YORK – The Columbia softball team opens the 2018 season this weekend in Boca Raton, Florida, at the FAU “Strike-Out-Cancer” Tournament. The season begins Friday with a doubleheader against Texas State and tournament host Florida Atlantic. The Lions will also take on Tulsa and Illinois-Chicago on Saturday before concluding the tournament with a second game against Texas State on Sunday.
2018 SEASON PREVIEW
Columbia continued to take steps forward under head coach Jennifer Teague last season, who now enters her fourth year with the program. The Lions won 20 games and started 5-0 in the Ivy League for the first time in program history. Teague also coached the Lions to a 10-4 (.714) record at home, tying for the program’s best home winning percentage. It included an 8-0 start, marking their longest home winning streak since 2014.
Columbia relied heavily on its offense last season, setting team records in runs scored (205), home runs (37), RBIs (184) and total bases (539). The Lions led the Ivy League in runs, hits (347), doubles (69), home runs, RBIs (184) and walks, while ranking No. 2 in slugging (.436).
This season, all but one of those offensive starters return. Among them are three All-Ivy League selections in senior shortstop Madison Gott, junior Bonnie Schipper and sophomore outfielder Sommer Grzybek, all of whom batted over .300 a year ago. Gott and Grzybek tied the school’s single-season home run record with 10 apiece. Gott broke Columbia’s records in batting average (.381), hits (59), RBIs (40) and total bases (102), and enters her senior season already holding the career records in home runs (22) and RBIs (84). Grzybek slugged .690 to set a new program mark in that category.
“It’s really comforting. I know that no matter what happens, the next person coming up to bat has my back,” said senior Taylor Troutt, who hit 10 home runs herself during the 2016 season. “In previous years, all of the pressure was put on a few people to get big hits. At this point, we can all do the job.”
Columbia’s returning starters also include senior outfielder Olivia Parker, junior third baseman Jordan Townsend, junior catcher Alexandra Yule and sophomore outfielder Amber Swinarski. Parker batted .294, stole six bases and was one of two outfielders in the Ivy League to carry a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage last season. Swinarski led the Lions with 30 runs scored., which ranked fifth in the Ivy League. Sophomore outfielder Genny Soltesz earned her way into the starting lineup toward the second half of the season and batted .324.
“Our sophomore class really stepped up last year as freshmen and helped us out a lot,” Troutt added. “One of my highlights from last season was watching them come in and really thrive. I can only see them getting better as sophomores.”
Two more sophomores, Madison Canby and Erin Gallo, return for the Lions in the circle. Canby was an All-Ivy League Honorable Mention after posting a 12-11 record and ranking among the top-five in the Ivy League in wins, starts (24), innings pitched (146.0), strikeouts (64), complete games (9) and saves (3). She was named Rookie of the Week twice and Pitcher of the Week once after posting a perfect 4-0 mark through the opening weekend of the Ivy League season against Harvard and Dartmouth. She and Gallo started all but 12 of last year’s games.
“The team has really worked on everything and improved all around for this year,” Schipper added. “We only had two seniors last year, so with almost everyone coming back we’ve really been able to pick up where we left off and keep going forward.”
PREVIEWING THE WEEKEND
Columbia’s challenging preseason schedule will be difficult from game one at this weekend’s FAU “Strike-Out-Cancer” Tournament. The Lions will face four teams that all posted winning records last season, including three that advanced to the NCAA Softball Regionals.
The season opener comes Friday at 3:45 p.m. against Texas State, a team that went 42-17 last season to earn a No. 2 seed in the College Station Regional. The 2017 Sun Belt champions finished the season with an RPI of 29 and have started off the 2018 season 6-4. Two of those losses came against No. 9 Florida State. Texas State is currently receiving votes in the USA Today/NFCA Coaches Poll.
Friday’s second game is against tournament host Florida Atlantic. First pitch is slated for 8:15 p.m. The Owls are currently 6-5 on the season and coming off a 35-21 campaign in 2017. Last weekend, they defeated perennial powerhouse No. 11 Tennessee, 3-2, at the Michelle Smith Pediatric Cancer Invitational in Clearwater, Fla.
“We’re going to have a really tough preseason. One thing we really need to focus on is coming together and supporting each other on and off the field,” said senior Taylor Troutt. “We’re playing teams with great pitching and offense. We have the talent and the tools we need to be successful, but we need to make sure we come together as a team and support each other.”
Saturday’s doubleheader features Tulsa and Illinois-Chicago. Both of those teams advanced to the NCAA Regionals last year as winners of their conference. Tulsa won the American and went to the Norman Regional, where they nearly defeated Oklahoma in the championship series but fell in extra innings. Oklahoma went on to win the 2017 College World Series. The Golden Hurricane have had a bit of down start to 2018 with a record of 3-6 entering the weekend. However, two of those losses came against No. 6 Texas A&M last weekend in College Station. Illinois-Chicago won last year’s Horizon League title with a 20-4 mark in conference play. The Flames are 2-2 this season and haven’t played since Feb. 11. They were supposed to travel to San Diego for the Campbell/Carter Classic last weekend, but could not make it due to flight cancellations in the Chicago area.
One more tough game against Texas State concludes Columbia’s tournament Sunday at 9 a.m.
“Obviously, we’re always trying to work toward an Ivy League championship,” Schipper went on to add. “We have a tough preseason with a lot of really good teams, and we’re just trying to use the preseason to improve toward our ultimate goal.”
Fans can track all five of Columbia’s games this weekend by accessing the live stat links at GoColumbiaLions.com. Friday’s game against FAU will be live streamed courtesy of FAUsports.TV. The FAU “Strike-Out-Cancer” Tournament landing page is available at FAUsports.com.