“Saddle up, saddle up,” shouted Swarthmore softball’s bench as the Edgewood pitcher began her windup to batter Kennedy Kings ’20. Kings had celebrated her twentieth birthday the day before at a Texas Roadhouse with the tradition of having the birthday girl ride a saddle while the whole restaurant yells “saddle up,” so naturally the team decided to turn their chant into Kings’ personal cheer. With the bases loaded and an 8-5 lead, all Kings had to do was a hit a base hit for two runs to score. Instead she hit a deep fly ball, way over the centerfielder, for her first ever collegiate grand slam. Moments like this, where people stepped up and went above what was needed, made this year’s spring break so much more successful for Swarthmore softball. As we were getting off the plane at the end of our trip, Kings commented how, unlike past years, she was not ready to go back to Swat and instead wished we had another week in Florida.
Going 7-1 and winning four of those seven games with a lead of 8 or more runs was only part of the reason the team had such a great time in Fort Myers during our five-day stay there from March 10 through the 16. Another major contributor to the team’s success is our new coach, Melissa Finley. Finley, born and raised in Canada, played with the Canadian National Team as well as at Princeton, where she graduated as the school’s all-time leader in home runs. She began her coaching career at Penn, eventually accepting a head coaching position at Colgate, where she stayed for five years. Finley brings new life to a once-archaic softball program through her positive energy, modern coaching tactics, and ability to create a fun learning environment for her players.
At one point in our 12-0 victory over Newbury College, Coach Finley turned to the dugout holding her left arm in pain, saying, “I’m going to need to ice my arm after waving you guys home so much.” It was this type of humor and her commitment to each player on the team that created the atmosphere of trust, fun, and confidence needed for the team to do well. Off the field Finley joked around with us, getting fiercely competitive in a round of mini golf (which she lost), indulging us in post game interviews with our Go Pro, and recommending pregame jams from her own college softball days, such as “Ignition” by R. Kelly. Our new assistant coach, Mike Cooperstein, whom we were lucky enough to have acquired from Centennial Conference rival Franklin & Marshall, also got competitive in our mini golf game. He made a bet against Alex Marsh ’20 that could have resulted in a pet chameleon had she beat him. Luckily for Coach Coop, Marsh shot a 76 in that golf game, making it nearly impossible to lose against her.
As a team we had just as much fun on the field as off the field. Starting each day with a 9 a.m. softball game may not be everyone’s favorite morning activity, but for Swat softball it was an awesome time to test out our abilities and figure out our chemistry as we begin conference play. Coming off of last season, where we rarely scored more than two runs per game, Florida was a whole different experience. Everyone was hitting: we had innings in which multiple people batted twice. The pitching was also phenomenal; Lucy Decker ’21 had a great trip in which she collected her first two collegiate wins. Being a relatively young team, with five freshmen and six sophomores, we counted on junior shortstop Marit Vike ’19 to lead the team on the field, which she did effortlessly. Our sophomore class also really stepped up this break, notably Gabby Natoli ’20, who was defensively stellar at second base and even stronger at the plate. Marisa Manchini ’20, one of our returning outfielders and during some games, the most senior outfielder in the field, took charge and worked well with freshmen center fielder Mika Maenaga ’21.
Senior captain Emily Bowman ‘18, who pitched through a double ear infection, shared how she sees the remainder of the season going after Florida.
“I think this year we’re really focused on starting our season with a clean slate. We’re a whole new team and we came out in Florida with a lot of positivity and energy. We really have a great time as a team on and off the field and I think the fun and good vibes help us to play better as well,” said Bowman.
Hopefully the softball team will continue our win streak now that we are back from Florida. With conferences starting this Saturday against Gettysburg College, Swarthmore softball looks forward to bringing the intensity and confidence we found in Florida to each game we play this season. With the help of our new coach, who has already found ways to improve each of us as players, I think that we will have our most successful season yet.