After a tough end to a successful year, Sonoma State softball is revving back up to prepare for the upcoming season.
On Feb. 3, the team will begin its quest for a ninth-consecutive winning season, as the players travel to Las Vegas for the annual Desert Stinger Tournament. It will be their first chance to make their 2016 season-ending loss to Chico State a distant memory.
Last year was solid overall, as the Seawolves made Regionals for the eighth-straight time and finished third in a strong CCAA appearance. With eight departing seniors, others will have to step up to repeat that level of success.
Among those who have graduated are 2016 All-Region selections Mandy Llerena and Carlie Daniel, two players that sophomore pitcher Brielle Vidmar believes were key.
“Carlie was our doubles queen…I believe she tied the [school] record for most doubles in a season,” Vidmar said. She describes Llarena as a pitcher that the team “could always rely on.”
This year’s team may not be short on talent, but building up that type of unwavering trust will take time. There are 10 new players on the Seawolves roster, including four freshmen and six transfers. There is plenty of optimism surrounding the team, however, and it all starts with coach Jennifer Bridges, who has led the program to seven great years in as many tries.
“Coach B brings out the competitor in all of us,” said junior catcher Sarah Langley. “She’s always having us compete in practice, if it’s a non-softball related game or a bunting [competition], she always brings the fire out of us. If you aren’t a competitor, Coach B will help you grow into one.”
While lighting a fire is important, Bridges’ drills are about more than instilling intensity in her players.
“She puts on practices that are specific to skills that we need in order to succeed,” said Vidmar, “and she’ll work with you individually if there’s a skill you’re struggling with.”
With so many new faces, this approach will be especially key. While Bridges believes that the experience of the six junior transfers will help ease the turnover, she realizes her demanding coaching style will be an adjustment for everyone.
“The hardest transition for the new players is the work ethic and expectation of our program…trusting that it’s ok to push yourself past where you think your limits are,” Bridges said.
Besides shifting personnel, injuries may be the Seawolves’ greatest obstacle. Health was a factor at several points last year, and the problem still persists as this season approaches. Senior Ashley Long and sophomore Alee Balanon are expected to miss the entire year, while seven other players are dealing with minor to significant bumps and bruises.
Every team deals with injuries, and ever-changing rosters are a part of college sports. Langley pointed out how the latter may actually benefit the Seawolves this year.
“There’s always a major loss on the other top teams’ rosters,” Langley said. “[Our new players] bring a fresh outlook to the game mentally, offering their own experiences…this has allowed us to grow even stronger.”
Power and speed were already roster strengths, and Langley believes some of the newcomers package these two skills in a way that adds to the team’s other major on-field strength: versatility.
“Every person brings something really unique and important to the team,” Langley said.
Of course, as it always has been under Coach Bridges, the Seawolves’ consider their biggest strength to be their intangibles. Considering the consistent success they’ve had during her tenure, no one is expecting that to change.
“We communicate well and we go all out,” Vidmar said. “We aren’t afraid to make a mistake, we just always give 100 percent.”