By Jacob Rzempoluch, Sports Editor
Three years after SVC students were sent home due to the spread of COVID-19, it seems as if most things on campus have returned to their previous, normal states. However, many school organized spring break trips were only able to return this year. The Benedictine Leadership Scholars trip to Rome, McKenna School trip to Germany, and various athletic team trips happened for the first time since before the pandemic. The softball team returned to Florida for some spring ball, with Head Coach Nicole Karr picking up her 300th career win in the sun.
Before the Bearcats arrived in Florida, Coach Karr had amassed 297 wins leading the team. A 2004 SVC graduate and Saint Vincent College Athletic Hall of Famer, Karr has coached the Bearcats since 2007.
“It was great to be able to return to Florida with the team this year after not going for the last 2 years," Karr said. “We had amazing weather and played some good competition.”
This year’s Bearcat softball roster is made up of only juniors, sophomores, and freshmen, meaning that none of the current athletes have made the trip before. The eight games that SVC played at the Auburndale Softball Complex provided even more novelty, as the Bearcats faced competition from Massachusetts to Minnesota to Illinois. Playing teams that SVC would not normally face provides variety that allows the Bearcats to prepare for conference play. Sometimes, these teams provide unique challenges.
“One of the teams… half their lineup was lefties, so that’s obviously a different take when fielding,” Olivia Persin, junior math, computer science, and data science management major, said. Despite the various idiosyncrasies of their opponents, the Bearcats approach every game the same way.
“We prepare the same way no matter who we play,” Karr stated. “We make sure we focus on what we need to do and come prepared and ready for whoever we play.”
Focus is especially crucial in a season that consists of mainly doubleheaders. In Florida, the Bearcats would face a different team in the morning and afternoon, but the regular season will consist of doubleheaders against the same opponent.
The Bearcats picked up two wins against the Rivier Raiders and the Concordia-Morehead Cobbers on March 5. Kiley Meeks, freshman early childhood education major, allowed only six hits and one run in her collegiate debut. This performance would earn her President’ Athletic Conference (PAC) Newcomer of the Week honors.
“The first game I pitched in I was a little nervous, but I had great teammates who always picked me up,” Meeks explained. “Also, I believed in the girls also on the field so when the other team started hitting I knew my fielders were going to get the out or make some truly amazing plays that stopped the other team from gaining momentum.”
Meeks would finish the week with a 2-1 record and 1.33 ERA that currently ranks second in the PAC, a performance that earned her Bearcat of the Week honors.
On their second day in Florida, the Bearcats fell to the Penn State Brandywine Nittany Lions and the Simmons Sharks. SVC would suffer another loss Tuesday morning against the Bluffton Beavers before a 9-5 victory against the Concordia-Chicago Cougars for Coach Karr’s
300th win. Despite this outstanding achievement, the Bearcats were not yet finished. After a day off the Bearcats would split their Thursday games, losing to the Dominican Stars before defeating the Wheaton Thunder in a close game. SVC finished the week with a 4-4 record. Jessica LaPorte, junior marketing major; Alex Dillner, junior education major; and Persin all recorded home runs over the trip. Sophomore education major Allie Prady currently leads the Bearcats in RBIs (6) and batting average (.417).
The eight games that SVC played in Florida provided a strong test for a relatively young team. Coach Karr notes that the Bearcats have a strong and deep roster that is capable of a successful season.
“The biggest keys for the team to succeed this year are solid pitching, good defense and timely hitting,” Karr said. “We have a lot of depth at every position and during the trip, it seemed a different player stepped up in every game. That’s a very good sign for the rest of the season.”
The Bearcats will play a few more doubleheaders before beginning conference play against the Chatham Cougars on March 25.