New faces bring optimism to softball team

New Head Coach Jeff Tylka will lead the Ramblers this year. Photo courtesy of Steve Woltman

Loyola’s women’s softball team has some familiar faces in new places heading into the 2015 season.

Among those filling new roles for the Ramblers is former Assistant Coach Jeff Tylka, who was named head coach of the team on July 31. Tylka took over the program from Missy Beseres Dow, who left for an assistant coaching position with the University of Wisconsin after being head coach at Loyola for four years.

Tylka is a popular players’ coach who has instilled new energy into the team to help maintain the success that the program has seen over the past few years.

“He brings a lot of energy to practices and games, and he’s very positive,” said senior infielder Jessica Balzano. “He has a lot faith in his players and believes that we all have great talent. Overall, he’s just a really good coach.”

Balzano, one of the team’s most successful batters last year (.284, 3 HR, 21 RBI), was not the only player to share positive thoughts about Tylka’s job as head coach thus far.

“Just on and off the field, there’s a couple of us that have been in rehab and therapy…so even there he’s cheering me on and supporting me,” said junior outfielder Kat Widup. “There’s just a different atmosphere and a different kind of energy.”

Widup spent the last three years watching her team from the dugout as shoulder injuries kept her from playing. The 2015 season will mark the first time that Widup will be fully healthy going into the season.

She explained that it has been hard to not play, but that she is focused on preparing for the upcoming season.

“It’s exciting. I’ve been working really hard,” Widup said. “Having three shoulder surgeries is definitely not ideal as a 21-year-old. Coming back and finally playing is awesome.”

Tylka and Balzano are both happy to finally have Widup back on the playing field, but they both noticed Widup’s hard work even when she was unable to suit up for games.

“I think she’s done an extremely good job of working hard to make sure she can get back to full strength,” Tylka said. “I think it’s still going to be a process of getting her back to where she used to be, but I think she’s going to give us everything she has and continue to work toward 100 percent.”

Balzano echoed her coach’s sentiments on Widup.

“I am ecstatic for her. She has been waiting the last three years to play, and for her to be able to step out onto the field is just amazing,” Balzano said. “She brings a lot of positivity to the team, especially when she was on the bench. She was always there for us and always supported us. I know that when she steps out onto the field she’s going to give it her all, and that’s exactly what we need.”

Widup, however, is making her return humbly and does not seem to be setting high goals just yet.

“Definitely stay healthy is [my] number one [goal], but I want to find my role and contribute as much as I can,” Widup said.

Widup and Balzano anticipate that they will only be a small part of the winning formula for the Ramblers, as the roster includes five freshmen who are expected to provide competition for the upperclassmen.

“I think the freshmen are definitely going to step up. The whole freshman class is very talented,” Widup said. “ We’re trying to earn our spots, too, but they’re trying to earn their spots. It’s a battle every day, but they challenge us so it makes us work harder.”

The hope is that Widup actually does stay healthy, as she and Tylka will use their new roles in conjunction with the infusion of young talent in an effort to help lead Loyola’s women’s softball program to new heights.

The Ramblers are scheduled to play several exhibition games this fall in preparation for their second season in the Missouri Valley Conference this spring. The team’s next game is at the University of Illinois at Chicago on Oct. 4.

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