As students get ready to leave for spring break, the Virginia softball team (8-8) is getting ready to host rival Virginia Tech (8-5) in the first weekend of the regular season.
The last time these teams squared off against each other, the Hokies swept the Cavaliers. However, with new Coach Joanna Hardin this season, the Cavaliers are looking for a different outcome.
“We’ve really learned a lot about the game,” junior pitcher and outfielder Allison Davis said. “These coaches have taught us so much about the little details of the game.”
In addition to their excitement about improvements, the Cavaliers are especially eager to be facing Virginia Tech.
“It’s exciting [to open against Virginia Tech], it gives us a fire since it’s a rivalry,” Davis said. “We played in the same tournament last weekend, so we got a chance to watch them and everyone was getting really pumped up for this weekend and getting excited to get back home and compete against them.”
The Cavaliers have spent the last three weekends traveling to play in tournaments and get some experience under their belt, which has been crucial in preparing for the regular season.
“We’ve been learning about ourselves,” Hardin said. “They’ve been learning a lot about us as coaches, we’ve been learning a lot about them as players, and you don’t really get that until you get on the field for games.”
The most recent of those tournaments was the East Carolina Pirate Invitational, where Virginia won three of five games — including an 8-1 win over Coppin State (1-12). Virginia got off to a quick start offensively, scoring five runs in the first two innings. Sophomore pitcher Erika Osherow held down the fort from the mound, pitching the entire game and only giving up one unearned run and two hits.
The Hokies also played Coppin State last weekend, achieving similar success with 11-3 and 10-0 victories against the Eagles.
The two wins against Coppin State were Virginia Tech’s last before dropping two in a row to East Carolina (8-7) and Seton Hall (6-2), 1-2, and 5-6, respectively. Despite the Hokies’ losing streak, Virginia knows Virginia Tech will not be an easy matchup.
“[Virginia Tech] swings it pretty well, they’ve got some young arms in the circle and can throw it pretty well,” Hardin said. “I think it’s going to be a boxing match back and forth and we have to stay within ourselves and play the way we know we’re capable of playing.”
The Hokies offense is led by sophomore outfielder Emma Strouth, who is batting .435 and has a team-high of 8 RBI’s, and senior outfielder Vanessa Gonzalez, who leads the team with three home runs.
Meanwhile, Virginia’s hitting is led by Davis who is batting .393, has 22 hits, 11 RBIs and four home runs. Senior catcher Katie Park has also played a big role in the Cavaliers’ success, with a batting average of .388.
“We’re more team oriented [this year] and want to find any way to win,” Park said. “Whatever that means — if you’re on the bench, if you’re playing the field, if you’re running, not running — you can help the team. We’re competitive and there’s going to be a lot more fight [this year] because we’re playing for each other.”
Sophomore catcher Olivia Gott and senior shortstop and second baseman McKall Miller have also been busy offensively, each with four homers thus far in the season.
In addition to putting up good statistics, the team feels it also has a good morale to set them up for success.
“There has definitely been some good energy,” Hardin said. “We’ve been saying ‘You go, we go’ so when one man goes, we all go, and if you go down, we’re going to go down together and if we’re on top we’re on top together.”
The team spirit is especially an encouraging sign for the season considering it is Hardin's first season coaching at Virginia.
“It’s a scary thing when you transition into a program because you just never know what you’re going to get. So you kind of walk on eggshells a little bit, but I don’t think we had to do that very long," Hardin said. "I think they just wanted someone to invest in them, invest in the program, and win, and they’re ready for that, so I think that — really and truly — any fears have been dispelled.
The series this weekend will be a great opportunity for the coaches and the players to further demonstrate the progress they have made together in front of a home crowd in Charlottesville.
“[We're most excited about] just getting back at home and getting a whole bunch of fans out there,” Park said. “We have a lot of kids in the community that like to come watch so it’s awesome to get to play in front of them, but just bringing it back home and protecting our turf is really important to us.”
The three-game series starts Friday at 5 p.m., continues Saturday at 1 p.m. and comes to an end Sunday at noon. The Cavaliers will then travel to Radford for a non-conference game Tuesday before hosting Boston College next weekend.