With an “old-school” mentality, that wasn’t something that came easy to her, but as the years have carried on, she is communicating with her student-athletes better, both as an instructor and a listener, with the hopes it will carry over to their performance on the field.
“Consistency is the focus for the entire team. We started out really strong last year, and I think consistency is going to be key for us this year.”Melissa Brocato, head softball coach
Brocato acknowledges that overcoming history and past performances is daunting, but she’s confident her squad can achieve the goals they’ve set for themselves entering 2024.
With 10 of the first 16 games of the new campaign on the road, Brocato will lean on the maturity of her senior players, including outfielders Lauren Slade and Lauren Barrett, pitcher Alissa Bolinger and infielder Aliyah Luke, to set the standard for the team.
On offense, Slade was second on the team in batting average (.360) and steals (11) while leading the team in runs scored (37), while Brocato said Bolinger and junior pitcher Maggie McBrayer will be looked upon to keep the opposing team’s run production down.
With 11 juniors and six sophomores, including three new transfers, compared to one freshman filling out the roster, Brocato is hoping the experience will help elevate the team’s situational game awareness.
The junior class is highlighted by all-conference third baseman Bailee Roberts, who led the team with a .442 batting average and seven homers and was recently named to the Preseason All-Conference team, and catcher Paige Patterson with a .314 batting average. Brocato also noted Lauren Evens is always a power threat, and Grace Bridges and Lauren Barrett provide aggressiveness on the field and the bases.
The sophomore class was mostly role players as freshman, but due to their good amount of playing time, she believes the team will get a chance to have more offensive opportunities from Nevaeh Ross and Hayden Pearson. Starting pitchers Ansley Gibson and Hannah Turner will have more chances to shine, and both will continue to mesh with catcher Sophie Baker.
Offensively as a unit, the 2023 team hit .288 in 45 games with an on-base percentage of .344 and 51 stolen bases, but Brocato is looking for more consistency all around.
“Consistency is the focus for the entire team. We started out really strong last year, and I think consistency is going to be key for us this year,” said Brocato, who holds the record for most wins in program history with 578.
“We’re very talented, and they’re a very close-knit team, which are two very important things that you want when you’re talking about success. For our pitching, getting ahead in our counts is always important and trusting the team behind you, but then also having the defense stepping up and making plays.”