By Dylan Powell, Head Sports Writer
Photo collected by Phoebe McCutcheon, Photographer and Designer
Three hour practices, fall games, scrimmages and sessions strictly focusing on fundamentalism: this is what drove the McKendree softball team this offseason. The Bearcats, who went 26-13 in the regular season and 20-8 in conference play just a year ago underwent many changes over the summer and fall of 2021. In June, Heather Tarter and staff took over the softball program in what was considered a reload year after the loss of several seniors. The team brought in new faces, from transfer upperclassmen to a solid freshman class with one goal in mind: carry the torch that was passed on to them.
“Having a new coaching staff gives everyone a clean slate. All of us were trying to prove ourselves, and I think we all did just that. We all showed the different skills we have and what each of us can bring to the table,” says Emily Mudd, junior pitcher. “Our new coaches are great, they played a huge part in the team chemistry we have. They preach a positive atmosphere, and they are extremely easy to talk to and are always willing to answer questions if there are any.”
Even with the new staff and player arrivals, the Bearcats were ranked sixth in the GLVC coaches poll. The work that has been put in by the team solidified their position on that poll, with their stock only going up leading up to the start of the season.
Then, all of the work they put in all summer and fall began to come to life. This past weekend, the Coach Tarter era began, going 3-1 at the Music City Invitational in Smyrna, Tennessee. This will be the first full regular season played since the spring of 2020, a season that was cut short to only 14 games due to COVID-19. Last spring, only 39 games were played. There is an expectation that there will be several more games added to the calendar this spring.
3-1 to start your season is an accomplishment, a statistic that puts the program at its best start since 2018. Without the preparation that the team has created, it would not be possible. Olivia Stansbury, a junior transfer said “The team had fall games, practices and strength/conditioning workouts. The team comes day in and day out giving their all no matter the weather or time of day.”
Emily Mudd agreed, stating “Going into this semester, I mentally needed to prepare as being in season is very busy. So, I personally needed to get in the in-season and gameday headspace. We do live pitching/hitting once or twice a week to allow both pitchers and hitters to get the game like stimulation. During off-season, we worked a lot on the basics of hitting, defense, pitching, baserunning, etc. We have put in a lot of work in both off-season and in-season.”
For softball at McKendree, it seems as if the preparation for the next game or practice never ends. It is also vital that team morale and chemistry is high going into the season to keep things successful as it has been so far. With that, Olivia Stansbury also mentioned that it is easy to keep chemistry and a positive culture around when you’re such a close group. “This is a smaller team than most so the chemistry created within our program is strong. We look forward to seeing one another on and off the field, which allows our culture to expand for future teams.” Fifth year senior Makenzie Carter echoed this, stating “I absolutely believe this team has the right culture and chemistry going into the 2022 season. We have limited numbers this year, so we’ve all become really close and learned to trust one another on and off the field. I think this is a genuine group of girls who are 100% bought in to the grind and collective goal: get back to the tournament.”
Overall, it has been a great start for the program. Everyone is locked in, and the eyes are on the prize for the season. The softball team will play in the Lewis Flyers Dome Invitational starting on Thursday, February 24 in Rosemont, Illinois. “Preparation starts way before the spring semester, over the summer you work on your own to perfect your craft, then when you come to school in August you need to start thinking of goals to work towards and prepare for the season,” says Skyler Davis, junior third base/catcher. “Our team has worked hard in this off season to come out and be ready to win the GLVC.”
We look forward to seeing continued success from our Bearcats!