The Hofstra Pride softball team has a lot to prove in 2017. Head coach Larissa Anderson – now in her third year at the helm – will be the first to tell you.
“Overall, last year was really a disappointment,” Anderson said.
“It really made me look in the mirror and evaluate to make sure this doesn’t happen again.”
The frustration was due to the fact that the Pride, a program generally carried on the back of a strong pitching staff, threw just a 4.66 ERA last year.
The only team in the Colonial Athletic Association with a higher number of runs allowed was Drexel University.
This year, things are different. The Pride brings back senior starter Jessica Peslak along with freshmen standouts Alyssa Irons and Sarah Cornell.
The two of them will slot into the rotation immediately.
“We’re expecting great things out of them. They’re very talented,” Anderson said.
“Cornell moves the ball east and west, can move the ball up in the zone and has an off-speed pitch. Irons moves the ball at four different planes. That’s very rare to see in a pitcher, to throw at four different planes as well as she does. She’s going to be very interesting and she has a dynamic off-speed pitch. She’s going to be a lot of fun to coach.”
There’s still a lot of uncertainty when it comes to the pitching staff. Peslak earned just a 4.48 ERA in her first full season last year, while the freshmen have yet to throw a pitch with the Pride.
“The upside potential is better than we’ve had in the past,” Anderson said.
“Having the three with the potential to play at a very high level. But again, they’re inexperienced. So we have to expect that we’ll have some bumps and bruises along the way, but the hope is that they’ll get better the more experience they get and that they learn from every outing that they have.”
Courtney Scarpato, who threw some innings in relief last year, will compete for a starting spot in either the outfield or at second base.
The coaching staff does not anticipate using her as a pitcher, except in emergency.
This year’s Pride also features a balanced and deep lineup. But if you ask Anderson which hitter she’s most excited for this season, her first inclination is to mention a freshman.
“Kristin Hallam is probably the most impressive first-year player,” Anderson said.
“She’s a freshman and she’s going to be starting at shortstop. She plays like an experienced player. I’ve never coached a freshman at shortstop.”
Even though the Pride returns four players who hit .300 or higher last season, Anderson cannot stop talking about Hallam.
The Hamilton, New Jersey, native broke her high school record by hitting .591 for her senior season.
She also earned Area Player of the Year honors for her performance.
She could fill the leadoff role for the Pride this season, a role most recently held by Chloe Fitzgerald, who graduated in 2016.
Beyond Hallam, the team also returns a number of major contributors to the offense. Michaela Transue, Brittany Allocca, Brielle Pietrafesa, Lacey Clark and Nikki Michalowski are all coming off strong offensive seasons.
Transue led all hitters with a .364 batting average, .504 on-base percentage and .682 slugging percentage
Allocca had a breakout performance last year after moving back to her natural position of catcher.
The sophomore hit .336 with nine home runs after hitting just .228 in her freshman season.
“You take a catcher and move them to a new position and then they have a lot more to think about,” Anderson said.
“But also freshmen have to understand that the second they take one swing, there’s a scouting report on them. Everybody is going to know exactly what their strengths and weaknesses are, and sometimes with freshmen it takes a little bit longer. To be able to make that adjustment, she made it as a sophomore and now she’s able to counteract how pitchers are throwing to her.”
Brielle Pietrafesa returns after a successful 2016 season, totaling 42 hits, including 17 for extra bases.
Lacey Clark saw a dip in batting average last year, but an increase in extra base hits despite playing in less games.
Junior Nikki Michalowski became a formidable part of the lineup in 2016, hitting .305 with eight home runs.
A trio of transfers joins the mix this year as well.
The Pride adds catcher Kaitlyne Musa (Florida International University), infielder Sarah Edwards (University at Buffalo) and outfielder Kirsten Kelley (Saint Peter’s University).
The three will compete for immediate playing time.
Despite the high number of new faces on the roster, the team is much closer than it has been in years past.
“Their chemistry is phenomenal,” Anderson said.
“We didn’t have any chemistry last year. It was 18 individuals that really struggled and they never meshed as a team. From the very beginning that was probably what the upperclassmen understood after last year’s experience. They never had the chemistry so it was very hard for them to compete on the field with one another.”
The Pride is gunning for on-field success as well.
Hofstra was picked to finish third in the CAA in the league’s preseason polls behind James Madison University and Towson University.
Despite that, the coaching staff believes the team is ready to compete right away.
“We’ve got to get back to the top of the conference,” Anderson said.
“JMU is at a Top 10 in the country. We have the potential to be there, it’s just a matter of getting ourselves in a position to be there. We’re in the hunt. If we’re in the hunt, on any given day we have the opportunity to win, but we’ve got to make sure we get there first.”