Hope springs eternal.
When it comes to a new season, there’s always something to look forward to. Whether it’s a new coach, returning stars or incoming recruits, there’s always a silver lining that allows a fan to be optimistic.
Well, the softball team has all three.
Coming off a disappointing 2008 season in which the Owls went 15-24 overall and 5-15 in the Atlantic Ten Conference, change was definitely needed. With an 11th place finish in the A-10 and the sudden resignation of coach Casey Dickson, the Owls needed somebody to right their ship.
Enter Joe DiPietro.
DiPietro, La Salle’s softball coach for the past six seasons, inherits a Temple roster that includes only five seniors and one junior. Luckily for DiPietro and Temple fans, two of the returning seniors happen to be first baseman Courtney Norene and pitcher/designated hitter Katie Burdeaux.
Norene, Temple’s all-time home run leader, is fresh off a season in which she tied for the conference lead in home runs with 10. She also managed to hit .290 and knock in a team-high 21 runs, while providing a more than capable glove at first base. While some may think the title of being Temple’s all-time home run leader might provide some added pressure, Norene doesn’t let her newfound notoriety affect her.
“I didn’t even know it was happening last year until I was two home runs away and somebody asked to interview me about it,” Norene said. “It’s not something that I think about at all. I’m just playing my game.”
While Norene provided most of the firepower for last year’s squad, consistency was the name of Burdeaux’s game. Burdeaux hit .333, good for 14th in the conference, while leading the team in hits with 36. Her success wasn’t limited to the plate, however, as she also started 17 games for the Owls, compiling a 6-12 record with a 3.68 ERA while leading the team in innings pitched and strikeouts.
“Katie’s a natural athlete,” Norene said. “She hits. She pitches. She does both extremely well.”
If Temple hopes to contend for a conference title this year, it’s going to need more than a potent offense, DiPietro said.
“It has to come down to the pitching. They have to do what they’re capable of doing. You can’t defend walks, and you can’t defend home runs,” DiPietro said. “If they’re able to hit their spots and keep the ball down, that’ll be the key.”
While Burdeaux will anchor the rotation, DiPietro also expects major pitching contributions from freshmen pitchers/first basemen Sarah Reynolds and Lauren Spoo.
Returning players include junior catcher Krystle Metzler, sophomore outfielder Samantha Dungan, sophomore infielder Chelsea Reicher, sophomore pitcher Amanda Branco and utility players, like sophomore Sumer Ploskonka.
Freshmen infielders Rachel Knable and Jess Hirschbuhl are also expected to contribute from the start.
While the schedule is not a forgiving one, as the Owls open their season with a series of tournaments in Miami and San Luis Obispo, Calif., the seniors expect to win now. If any freshmen on the team have doubts about how successful this team can be, Burdeaux has a few motivational words.
“Expect to win. Do not expect anything short of winning,” she said. “Expect to hit home runs. Expect to strike people out. That’s the type of team we have this year. We can do that.”
“This is definitely a playoff team,” DiPietro added. “Based on what I’ve seen so far, I will be very extremely disappointed if we don’t make the playoffs.”
With an abundance of new blood and the return of a couple key bats, you can’t fault DiPietro for having hope.
Kyle Guass can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.