An ODAC Championship and appearance in the NCAA Regionals is a hard act to follow. Graduating five seniors makes it even harder.
That is the task facing the Eastern Mennonite softball team in 2011. Last year the women became the first ever eighth seed to win an ODAC tournament in any sport. Despite coming in with a younger team, eighth-year Head Coach J.D. McCurdy believes he has the talent to make a run once again.
“We have four returning seniors and some other big contributors,” McCurdy said. “I feel like we are as strong at EMU as we have ever been in softball. We may not have the depth that you look for, but I feel that as far as the athleticism and ability to play softball, I think we can do as well as anybody ever has.”
Senior Jessica Blosser has been named All-ODAC twice in her career.
Senior Jessica Blosser (Crimora, Va./Wilson Memorial) headlines the returning crew. The two-time All-ODAC honoree batted .405 last season and has 79 runs and a .507 slugging percentage over her career. She will hold down one of the outfield spots for the Lady Royals.
Junior Lisa Lee (Buckingham, Va./Buckingham) has been All-ODAC Second Team in both of her seasons and will again pitch and play third for EMU. Lee batted .400 last year and already holds the school’s career record for homeruns with 12. She also has an 11-12 career record on the mound.
Sophomore second baseman Courtney Allman (Weyers Cave, Va./Fort Defiance) had six homeruns and 36 RBIs in her rookie campaign and will again add some punch to the lineup.
The Lady Royals will have four seniors, two juniors and four sophomores to lead a talented crew of freshmen.
Three of the newcomers have already earned consistent starts early this season: high school teammates Molly Smith (Elkton, Va./Spotswood) and Brooke Hensley (Elkton, Va./Spotswood) along with Alexis Labiche (Winchester, Va./Millbrook).
Smith has split her time between left field and the pitching mound while Hensley has taken over the shortstop position.
“Molly is a powerhouse offensively and has a really good dimension as a pitcher,” McCurdy said. “And Brooke is tremendously gifted as a shortstop. She has great range with a quick release and strong arm. Alexis is athletic and can play multiple positions. She’s also an outstanding baserunner.”
The coach said the meshing of new players with the returners is always a process, but should be a strength for them this season.
“We are working on it,” said McCurdy. “But we are further ahead in that process than we have been in the past and that will make a big difference as we get into the conference season.”
Eastern Mennonite was picked sixth in the ODAC’s preseason poll. McCurdy was not surprised by the vote of his fellow coaches, although he expects his women to aim higher.
“That’s about where I would have put us,” McCurdy said, “in the middle of the pack. There are some really good teams in this conference with some good juniors and seniors like Guilford, Roanoke, Lynchburg and Bridgewater. But I wouldn’t expect anything less out of them than a championship. These girls know where we want to go and they are on board with that.”
Although the Lady Royals expect to have solid pitching this year, the offense has the ability to lead the team and put up a lot of runs.
“Our offensive side should be a strength this year,” he said. “Our offense has potential to be very powerful. I think our pitching is ahead of our hitting right now, although we have been facing some of the best pitchers in the country. When that offensive piece comes together, hitting is contagious and it should be a lot of fun to watch us.”
The women are starting the 2011 season with a string of 16 road games, including four-game tournaments on three straight weekends. The Lady Royals have their home opener Saturday, March 19, when Guilford comes in for an ODAC doubleheader. EMU also hosts Lynchburg that Sunday.