Loyola’s softball team came swinging out of the gates as it opened up its season with 2-2 record at the Total Control Sports Invitational held in Rosemont, Illinois, this past weekend.
The Ramblers started this season with a new head coach, Jeff Tylka.
Tylka was an assistant coach last season under Missy Beseres. He is joined by his co-assistant coach from last season, Brittany Cervantes, and new assistant coach, Marina Demore.
The transition from assistant coach to head coach has gone smoothly, according to Tylka, especially with the help of his assistants.
“It’s been pretty good. There’s obviously a lot more things to do, and I’m fortunate enough to have very great assistant coaches to help me to get through everything that needs to be done,” said Tylka. “They have made the transition pretty easy for me because of all the hard work they have done for me.”
Junior pitcher Ashley Rogers said Tylka’s experience with the program is an advantage for him as he begins his head coaching career.
“Not a lot has changed [since Tylka has become head coach],” said the Evergreen Park, Illinois, native. “He knows everyone and he knows how to coach everyone and how everyone responds. So it was nice having him be able to just come in and basically just start where we left off.”
Along with a new coaching staff, the team is welcoming five fresh faces to its roster this season, including two pitchers and three infielders.
Senior catcher Tarran Shaffer is excited to welcome the new talent to her team.
“The entire freshman class as a whole is extremely talented,” she said. “Every single one of them works extremely hard. They all bring different strengths to the softball team, which I think is a great thing. I think they will all be great contributors this year … They’re all very versatile and really up for anything.”
Rogers is eager to have a new infield to accompany her this year.
“I’m excited because we have a lot of freshmen who are very talented,” the psychology major said. “I’m excited to see how everything works out because it’s a totally new infield.”
The freshmen infielders, Jamie O’Brien and Brooke Wyderski, started this past weekend at third and short, respectively. Freshman Ashley Parenti started her collegiate career at left field.
Freshman Maddie Hope will be competing against Rogers for time on the pitcher’s mound.
Tylka said the entire class will be seeing playtime within the first two weeks, and he said he thinks they’re meshing well with the upperclassmen.
“All of the freshmen will get [to] start within the first two weeks, and we kind of expect big things from them,” he said.
The Ramblers are currently ranked No. 2 in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC).
Loyola is out for vengeance this season, after its heartbreaking loss to the Bradley Braves in the MVC championship game last spring.
Shaffer said the team’s goal is to win the conference championship.
“Obviously, we want to win the MVC tournament. We were extremely close last year,” said the Matherville, Illinois, native. “I think we kind of have a chip on our shoulders this year and we want to make it back there. We want to finally get a ring and win that championship game and then move on to the regional NCAA tournament this year.”
Rogers believes the Ramblers’ biggest challenge this year will be their size compared to other teams in the Valley, but they will continue to have success if they strategize to their advantage.
“I think we’re able to compete and win most of the series in conference. The only thing that would stop us is if we beat ourselves,” she said. “We’re a smaller team and we don’t have huge, built girls, but we’re really successful when we play our game, and we just have to challenge ourselves to do that every game and then we’ll be successful.”
Tylka said the Ramblers needs to maintain a healthy roster and continue to push through the hardships they may face this season.
“We had two people on our injured reserve and we’re looking forward to getting them back,” he said. “Everyone would love to go through a season without adversities, but as a team you always face some and that’s what makes us strong, makes us better and hopefully carries us through the MVC season.”
The Ramblers will be on the road to Tucson, Arizona, from Feb. 13 to 15 as they play in the Hillenbrand Invitational.