GVSU softball to play ‘small ball’ sans Martin

GVL / Archive
Senior Briauna Taylor

GVL / Archive Senior Briauna Taylor

Pete Barrows

“Every day is a new opportunity,” Cleveland Indian pitching great and first-ballot MLB Hall of Famer Bob Feller once said. “You can build on yesterday’s success or put its failures behind and start over again.

“That’s the way life is, with a new game every day, and that’s the way baseball is.”

Softball is no different, and as the Grand Valley State University softball team embarks upon the 2014 season, the challenge at hand will be to both continue to build on past success while starting again with a new team and style currently under development.

The Lakers finished 46-9 in 2013 as one of four final NCAA Division II collegiate softball teams left playing in late May.

In 2014, GVSU will begin the season where last year’s ended, ranked No. 3 in the preseason National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) poll behind the defending champion University of Central Oklahoma and runner-up Kutztown University, with aspirations to return to the NCAA World Series Tournament for the second time since 2002.

“I know everybody is excited to get back on the field,” said senior Brittany Taylor, who will make the jump from left field to center this season. “We have a lot to prove after finishing the way we did last year and we’re excited to show that GVSU is still a top-ranked team for a reason, even though we’re different than we were.”

The Lakers will begin 2014 without the services of a 2013 senior class comprised of center fielder and leadoff hitter Nellie Kosola, second baseman Kayleigh Bertram, pitcher Hannah Santora, catcher Emily Holt, right fielder Emily Jones, utility players KC Christopher and Maggie Kopas and GVSU’s very own ‘Sultan of Swat’, designated cleanup hitter Katie Martin.

Martin was GVSU’s record holder in career batting average (.438), hits (300), runs (188), doubles (72), RBI (240), total bases (555), walks (115), on-base percentage (.517), slugging percentage (.810) and has tattooed more home runs (59) than any other student-athlete, male or female, in GLIAC history; she became the first-ever two-time recipient of the Daktronics National Player of the Year award last season.

“We’re not really looking at it as replacing them or living up to what they did, but focusing on what we do best and making that work for this team this year,” senior first baseman Tonya Calkins said.

With the understanding that last season is over, and that replacing irreplaceable players and more than 50 percent of a team’s production is a daunting challenge, the Lakers will begin to address concerns in more detail as the snow melts and the fields slowly (and hopefully but surely) begin to thaw.

And as the winter evolves into spring, so too will the Lakers. From a power-orientated team with a rigid identity that slugs to score to a speed-orientated team in flux that gets on-base and manufactures runs through small-ball tactics.

A new team with different players and the same goals — to be competitive in the GLIAC and gain entry into an NCAA regional.

“I told the girls last year was a great year, but that one’s finished and we go from here,” GVSU skipper Doug ‘Doc’ Woods said. “We’ll just try to do the best we can and I think we have a good core of players to work with to put together a good season.”

A core of five seniors return to the diamond for the Lakers, including Brittany Taylor, her twin sister Briauna, Calkins, Miranda Cleary and Kayla Hurd.

Briauna Taylor, a three-time All-GLIAC First Team short stop, will man the hole once again for the Lakers and will look to steady the lineup. Calkins and Cleary, an All-GLIAC First Team third baseman, will once again cover the corners, providing GVSU with a steady and seasoned infield.

Freshman Jenna Lenza will be the likely replacement for Bertram at second base.

Last season, the outfield composed of Brittany Taylor, Kosola and Jones started every game for the Lakers, although this season, only Taylor returns. Competition has been steep in the early weeks for the other two outfielder jobs and permanent starters likely won’t be named until the conclusion of the squad’s spring break trip to Florida.

“I’m really excited to see how we all fit,” Briauna Taylor said. “We have all the talent in the world. It’s just a matter of whether or not we can put it all together and play a good softball game. We have the goods to compete in the GLIAC and the nation, but it will be interesting to see how we come together as a team.”

Briauna Taylor will enter her last go around at GVSU in any sport ranked fourth in career batting average (.387) and slugging percentage (.613), fifth in home runs (22), and eighth in on-base percentage (.436). Cleary is currently ranked third in Laker career history in home runs (37), fifth in RBI (127) and slugging percentage (.582), and ninth in walks (63).

Only this season, instead of making ticker-tape parade rounds along the base paths following towering home run shots, they’ll be asked to produce in new and different ways.

“Us seniors, we laugh about it,” Calkins said. “‘We’ll ask Doc, ‘wait, what’s a bunt?’ We haven’t had to do that much in the past, and we’re working on changing the game. Our game.”

Sophomore Sara Andrasik, who was named the 2013 GLIAC Freshman of the Year and an All-America honorable mention honoree after going 20-4 with a 1.59 ERA, 161 strikeouts and two no-hitters in 149.2 innings pitched, will take over as the No. 1 starter.

The Lakers will begin their season Saturday and Sunday with an indoor tournament at the Rosemont Dome just outside of O’Hare airport in Rosemont, Ill. GVSU will begin to put the pieces together as it faces four DII opponents.

It will be the first time in four years that the Lakers have started a season without Martin and crew on the roster.

It will be the 2014 squad’s first time to play a real game together, and GVSU’s first official game back since a 7-2 loss to Kutztown in last year’s semifinal. An opportunity to move on, to build fresh and start in on a new season — and the Lakers are excited to have it.

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