Softball T-Birds bring experienced squad back for 2013 season

Title: Softball T-Birds bring experienced squad back for 2013 season
Date: February 6, 2013
Original Source: UBC Thunderbirds
Synopsis: This was a season preview for the UCB Thunderbirds’ women’s softball team, who are forced to play without a home field.

VANCOUVER – The UBC Thunderbirds softball team may not have a conference to call their own, or even a home stadium to use for the season, but there’s one place they feel they belong.

“Our intent is to qualify for Regionals,” said head coach Phil Thom.

The program is entering its fourth year, and last year the team fell shy of qualifying for Regionals for the first time. With 11 teams eligible from their region and only five spots up for grabs, the Thunderbirds will always have their work cut out for them, especially with two spots basically locked up to top-10 NAIA teams in Cal State San Marcos and Oregon Tech. Still, Thom sees the improvement and dedication in his squad and doesn’t leave much doubt about where the team will be in early May.

“The expectation this year is to be better,” said Thom. “We’ll play just as tough a schedule but the girls don’t like what happened last year and we’ll be better. The commitment the team has given us and the desire they’ve shown to improve has been phenomenal.”

UBC is returning 15 of their 16 players from last year, making them a team heavy on experience with seven seniors in the fold. Only former captain and All-A.I.I. shortstop Jess Hodge graduated, but she leaves a big hole on the field and off of it. She was the captain and unquestioned leader on the team, as well as their top player in nearly every statistical category.

Lindsay McElroy (Delta, BC) is the captain this year, and she’ll have help from her assistant captains and roommates in Brittany Meyer (Delta, BC) and Molly Gosnell (Sunnyvale, California). The trio of fourth-year players also represent part of the first group of players to graduate from the UBC softball program after playing all four years with the team, having joined it in its infancy.

“It’s great,” said Thom. “It’s our first graduating class that we’ve had since Day One, and I can’t believe it’s happening. It’s great to have watched their development and see how far they’ve come from hard work.”

The team is sporting an expanded roster with 19 players, since they need to get incoming freshman some time on the team to eventually fill open roles. Five such rookies will see time in reserve roles this year, a strategy of bringing players along that Thom has found success with.

“Ideally, you have a few new players each year to stay consistent over time,” said Thom. “We brought in five new players this year and it looks like all five will contribute in a back-up role and get ready for a spot next year.”

“Seeing our second-year players now, we know this system works.”

Thom is expecting that it’s not just the second-year players who have made strides. Last year’s inexperienced squad has several players poised to take a step forward in terms of role and performance, and Thom has been impressed with the motivation and initiative of his troops.

“The improvement since fall is obvious,” said Thom. “They’ve gotten a lot stronger. The UBC fitness program has really helped us.”

The Thunderbirds leave Wednesday to begin their season on Thursday in Redding, California for an eight-game tournament. They’ll follow that up with a six-game tournament in Clackamas, Oregon next weekend and then a five-game tournament in Medford, Oregon with an exhibition game at Western Washington sandwiched in. Twenty games in three weekends may sound like a lot to start the season, but the Thunderbirds can’t afford to ease into things. With the competition tight for those Regional spots, they have to hit the ground running and get on the NAIA radar early.

“We have to play these tournaments because we don’t have a conference,” said Thom. “We have to win early. We can’t afford to have exhibition games.”

UBC was then expecting to be at home in early March to host Simon Fraser at a brand new field in the south campus, but it appears a drainage issue will keep the Thunderbirds off their home diamond for the year, forcing their home games to be played on the road, probably in Richmond. It also throws a week’s worth of games UBC was set to host March 26-29 into question.

Regardless of the home field situation, the schedule was set to start the same and the Thunderbirds have their sights set on Thursday’s double-header with Simpson University. This weekend is the first of many busy weekends for UBC this season, and the team is hopeful it’s the start of another season that ends in Regionals.

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