Softball heads into spring season with big expectations

by Aaron Asmus

The Sacramento State softball program, under the direction of second-year head coach Lori Perez and an experienced roster, will look to build on its second place finish in conference a season ago.

After leading the Hornets to a 12-4 record in conference last season, the best effort for the softball program in over 20 years, Perez had the interim coach label removed after one season and is now the permanent head coach. But that does not mean anything will change with her coaching philosophy.

“It helps with recruiting for players coming in to know that I’ll be here,” Perez said. “My drive and desire for what I want for the program hasn’t changed with the title.”

A main focus for the team stressed by Perez and the coaching staff early on in the year is to work on the mental aspect of the game and to improve on building team chemistry. This transition will be easier for the Hornets as they are bringing back 21 out of 25 players from a season ago.

“We haven’t had to spend much time teaching the system to many players,” Perez said. “We’re working in between the ears and on having our players to be able to mentally manage the game at a higher level.”

With so many returning players, the Hornets hope to get over the hump of losing conference by 1/2 a game last season and start strong right out of the gates. The team significantly picked up their game in the second half of the year and finished 17-8 in the final 25 games after starting 8-13.

The approach to the season for the Hornets is to worry about one game at a time and not think too far ahead into their schedule.

“We got the ability to win conference this year and win our tournaments,” Perez said. “We just take it day by day and game by game.”

Jennifer Hartman, a pitcher for the Hornets, said one change from previous years is the team mentality to focus and develop individual performance.

“It’s about evaluating ourselves and how we can get better,” Hartman said. “We’ve also put more importance on being a well-rounded team in different ways such as being involved in the community, socially getting along and being good role models.”

Hartman returns to the Hornets pitching staff along with junior Kaitlyn Yerby and senior Caitlin Brooks. These three were the core of a pitching staff that led the Big Sky in pitching by over a run with a 2.83 ERA.

The team has responded extremely well to Perez’s coaching style and have had no problem adapting to a new system the past two seasons when long-time softball head coach, Kathy Strahan, announced her retirement. Hartman said all it took was the team to be open-minded to new changes in the practices and the transition was simple.

“She kept a lot of the stuff the same,” Hartman said. “She’s always been very involved in our practices and is just as involved now. We just had to get used to as a team in practicing things a different way.”

Alexa Chattleton, senior communications major and second-year captain with the team, recognizes Perez’s ability to reach and inspire the team as one of her strengths as a coach.

“She always knows the right thing to say in a situation and can really influence a game with her speeches,” Chattleton said.

The team has started out strong in the fall preseason capped off with a win against UC Davis. The coaching staff and the team is using their fall season to evaluate the team progress and finding areas for improvement.

“We really want to get back to basics and break everyone down,” said assistant coach Danielle Kaminaka. “While we’re a very competitive team and always want to win, the games weren’t as important as making sure everyone stays focused through the Christmas break.”

Chattleton also saw the fall ball schedule as a great opportunity for the team to grow and learn what needs to get better.

“We try and have the same mind-set in every game we go into,” Chattleton said. “In the back of our minds, we know we’re playing our rival, but I don’t think anyone really pushes knowing we’re playing our rivals. But it is always nice to beat them though.”

As a captain, Chattleton is one of the vocal leaders on the team and sees building team chemistry as something she can help along by being there for the new players on the team.

“I feel I know what I need to bring to the table in my second year captain to help the team,” Chattleton said. “We have four new freshman this season and I try to make them as comfortable as possible and make sure they meet our team expectations.”

Softball begins its season Feb. 6 at the So Cal Collegiate Classic.