Your reigning ODAC champion Yellow Jacket Softball team is taking the field again, and they are looking for the 2016 title.
Picked by the coaches of the ODAC to win the conference for the 2nd year in a row, the Yellow Jackets are returning many key players that allowed the team to go deep into the NCAA Regional Tournament last spring. They lost 1st Team All-ODAC shortstop Sharese Jarvis and 2nd Team utility player Amanda Sopko to graduation at the end of last year, but the team is still returning a lot of young talent with a good mixture of mature seniors that many believe will allow for much success this spring.
Sierra Ford, an outfielder, and Madison Gilman, a catcher, are two seniors who won 3rd and 1st team All-ODAC, respectively, last season. Both will be leaders on the bench and are in the stat column this season. Sophomore pitcher Nelda Bagley is returning after winning the ODAC Rookie of the Year award, the only major award given to the Yellow Jackets last season after winning the League. Her 19 wins last season tied for 7th in all NCAA DIII. She will be taking her place on the mound and will give the Yellow Jackets a chance to win at every game that she pitches.
Brandi Mulvena will also hold a pivotal role for the Yellow Jackets. With 16 games already played this season, she is hitting .340 with a .415 On Base Percentage, both stats 2nd on the team.
The top newcomer to watch this season will be freshman Candace Whittemore, who will be one of the starting pitchers to go alongside Bagely. She has started off the season hot with a 6-2 record, posting a 2.23 ERA. She will be one of the candidates for this year’s ODAC Rookie of the Year award.
Some of the softball players sat down and talked to The Yellow Jacket on how they plan to handle the expectations of being the reigning champions.
“As with being any kind of reigning champ, we expect there to be a target on our back. However, we aren’t expecting any handouts,” sophomore Harley Jones said about the team’s work ethic. “We are planning to work just as hard, if not harder, to keep our title.”
They will certainly have to work hard, as the Yellow Jackets will be a statement game on everyone’s roster this season. Many teams in the ODAC will be looking to knock them off and demonstrate their own skills.
“We are going to have to play our best every game in order to stay number 1 [in the ODAC],” junior Kelsey McLaughlin said.
McLaughlin also added, “It was cool being number 1 in the preseason poll. It shows our program’s hard work and success.”
The Yellow Jackets are looking even further than just the conference this year.
“We obviously want to get another ODAC title, but going beyond that, we want to be regional champions instead of just runner-ups like last year,” McLaughlin explained.
While the R-MC Softball team is setting the bar high for the season, it looks like the odds are in their favor.
-Blake Saathoff ’17, Junior Sports Editor