Trusting the process: that’s the Loyola softball team’s strategy during its fall preseason training.
The Ramblers have gradually improved during their past three seasons in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC). In the 2015 season, Loyola finished with a 15-35 overall record and was 5-21 in the MVC. Last season, the Ramblers tabbed a 21-28 overall record and went 5-19 in the MVC. In fact, Loyola won 10 of 11 games last season from Feb. 20 through March 5. However, the team’s momentum ran short toward the end of the season, and the Ramblers lost six of their last seven games.
After a lackluster finish and no place in the MVC tournament last season, third-year head coach Jeff Tylka said the team is making adjustments to positions and training newcomers during the offseason.
This season, the Ramblers welcome back five starters, including senior outfield standout Erica Nagel, who led the team with 72 hits and 35 runs last season. Although Loyola has a score of veterans, the team also includes seven first-year players.
Tylka said his goal is to ensure that the first-year players can make an easy transition from the slower pace of club softball and high school softball to the faster pace of collegiate softball.
“[We want to] get better each game and get freshmen used to playing fast,” said Tylka.
Tylka and Nagel agreed that the adjustments Tylka makes in the offseason will be a huge challenge for the entire team this season. Position changes will be prominent this year so players can devote their personal talents and athleticism to specific positions. Junior Jamie O’Brien will play shortstop instead of the third base, where she has spent the past two seasons.
Tylka said the preseason allows his team to get comfortable meshing with newcomers and helps prepare the team for spring competition.
With plans to build on last season’s 21 wins, Tylka and Nagel said they are both aware the team tends to be successful early on but then loses momentum. The team aims to improve with each game and not settle for previous mistakes, according to Tylka.
“[The team is] doing pretty good and working extremely hard,” Tylka said. “They push each other and are poised to creep closer to the .500 mark.”
Last season, the Ramblers were more skillful at the plate than in the field. This year, Tylka plans to continue the team’s offensive success and strengthen its defense. Tylka said he expects junior Jacquelyn Murphy, with her past experience in the outfield and the infield, and junior Alyssa Mannucci, with her experience on second base, to solidify the defense.
Communication in the outfield will also be key to improving the defense, according to Tylka. He said he expects sophomore centerfielder Brooke Wilson to help lead the outfield communication.
The Ramblers’ defensive strength is in the outfield, according to Tylka, but the infield is still a work in progress.
Tylka said he relies on Nagel for her leadership skills. She led the MVC in hitting last year and set a Loyola single-season record with a .453 batting average.
Tylka said he believes all the first-year players have something to offer, but they will have to earn their spots and time on the field as preparations for the spring season continue.
The regular season starts in January, and the Ramblers play their first conference game Feb. 10.