JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – The ETSU softball team kicked off last year by going undefeated in the first eight games and started the conference season with a sweep over Western Carolina.
The Buccaneers took the field for the season-opening practice on Saturday and East Tennessee hopes to begin the spring on hot streak just like last year.
Head coach Brad Irwin returns key contributors, including senior infielder Nikki Grupp. The Jacksonville native was named to the All-Conference first team last season and the led the Buccaneers in AVG. and RBI’s. Also expected to have an impact this season is junior outfielder Kelly Warren and junior infielders Julia Fritz and Lauren Lee.
Experience will be a crucial theme for this Buccaneers team, but Irwin knows the upper classmen will set great examples for the younger players.
“They know how to take care of themselves, they know how to manage their time with academics and softball and lifting and all that kind of stuff,” Irwin said. “They’ve been through the ringer, they can help the young kids along and help them manage it when they hit those walls.”
Grupp added that some of the under classmen will be expected to step up in play making roles.
“Experience is a big part of this team, but the good thing is just because you’re a senior, doesn’t mean you’re a leader,” Grupp said. “We have leaders on this team that are sophomores too, so overall we have a really good dynamic with our team.”
Even though there’s a calling for younger players to step up, Lee knows the veterans offer a different perspective on the game.
“With experience, we know what we’re doing, we have a lot more confidence in ourselves and we can help our younger teammates out and just calm them down and be good teammates to them,” Lee said.
The Buccaneers kick off the season at a tournament on February 7 in Statesboro, Georgia with the home opener taking place on February 28 against Tennessee Tech, which is part of ETSU’s Buccaneer Classic tournament.