Seawolves first baseman Janelle Arnold perhaps had the same questions about her team that the CCAA head coaches did last January when they picked SSU to finish seventh in the league’s preseason poll.
“At the beginning of the season I wasn’t really sure how good we were going to be,” said Arnold, “We are more of a young team and I didn’t know how our competencies were going to be in comparison to other teams.”
But now it is not only apparent to Arnold that the Seawolves (20-5, 15-3 CCAA as of March 20) are a highly skilled team, but also to every other player and coach in the ten-team conference that’s trailing their wine country counterparts in the standings.
“It feels awesome and it’s really exciting,” said Arnold of the team’s success so far.
Figuring out why SSU is in first place in the conference and ranked 21st in the country last week requires only one look at the CCAA statistics, as the squad led the conference in hitting and were second in pitching as of Mar. 15.
Not only do the Seawolves lead the CCAA in batting average with a .330 clip but also in home runs and runs batted in with 24 and 118 respectively to go along with six other offensive categories.
“The key is the consistency through our lineup,” said second baseman Kayla Ledford, “I think it helps us a lot because we know that if one person is having an off-game that there will be other people who will step up.”
Individually, LeeAnn Stroud’s .481 batting average is tops in the conference while centerfielder Simone Brandalise is fourth in runs batted in with 17 and Rochelle Vanyi is second in runs scored with 18.
“Our hitting is ridiculously on right now,” said Arnold, who mentioned that good pre at-bat coaching and the team’s “track-and-push” hitting technique (an approach that emphasizes eyeing the ball all the way to the plate, identifying the swing needed to hit it and adding power to the swing) have helped SSU become such a formidable threat at the plate.
It is not as if SSU needs to score a bunch of runs to win games either, as freshmen starting pitchers Julianne Martinez (9-3, 1.45 ERA) and Samantha Lipperd (11-1, 2.00 ERA) are both in the top ten in the CCAA for ERA and wins (Lipperd’s college softball resume also features a no-hitter).
“Its amazing how mentally tough they are for freshman,” said Ledford of the two pitchers, “I think that the fact that they know our offense will come through for them helps, but they don’t give up, like today [the first game of a doubleheader against Chico State last Friday-a 7-5 Seawolves win] we were down early and Jules (Martinez) stayed tough and we came back and won.”
But there are also other factors that are playing a role in shaping what could be the best Seawolves team to ever play in Rohnert Park, factors such as the team’s ability to adjust to a new head coach, the sturdy leadership of its captains (Brandalise and catchers Jesse Talaugon and Carli Feuerbach), and its strong team chemistry.
“Its something that’s happened over the years, regardless of who’s on the team we have good chemistry,” said the four-year starter Brandalise.
“We’re definitely a family, and we’re known as the softball group because when we go somewhere we’re always together,” added Arnold.
With a great season have come greater expectations for it from SSU’s players.
Reaching the Super Regionals is one goal that players have mentioned, which would require them to win the NCAA West Regionals.
Right now though, the Seawolves are more than confident that they can accomplish their current objective of winning the CCAA.
“We’ve played a lot of teams already, and they’re not better than us, so we can definitely win the CCAA,” said Ledford.
“No one can stop us in our league, so I believe that we’re going to win the conference,” added Arnold.
Their deep lineup, superb young pitching staff, and ardent team chemistry certainly gives them a great shot at accomplishing that feat.