The University of Maine softball team has been selected to finish fifth in the America East preseason poll with 18 points in the poll, one point shy of fourth place Binghamton University. The University of Albany was picked to win America East this season after receiving three first place votes and 32 total points in the poll.
The Black Bears finished 17-30-1, 8-9-1 in conference play last season and qualified for the America East Championship for the second time in three years.
The Black Bears return two second-team All-America East players: sophomore catcher EmJ Fogel and senior first baseman Hilary Kane. The team added five new players to the team in the offseason with three freshman and two transfer players. Infielder Sara Delso, ouftfielder Lydia O’Connor and utility player Makaila Kowalsky make up the freshman class while redshirt junior pitcher Hannah Hill is transfering in from Seton Hall University and sophomore pitcher Alexis Bogdanovich arriving from St. Anslem College. Hill and Bogdanovich both went to high school in Maine.
Head coach Lynn Coutts returns for her second season with Black Bears and expects more from her team than the fifth place finish they’re predicted to have.
“We were picked to be in the middle of the pack in the America East conference, but I look to be higher than that,” Coutts said. “It’s OK where they pick us; where we end up is a different story.”
The Black Bears have worked on a number of things during the offseason. Improving their speed has perhaps been the biggest focus.
“We’ve really worked on our speed,” Coutts said. “We’ve worked on our agility and being able to change directions.”
Another thing the team has focused on is pitching. The Black Bears staff posted a 3.80 last year, and opponents batted .287 against them. The team worked on hitting the ball with more power.
“Our pitchers have added velocity,” Coutts said. “Our hitters are hitting the ball harder and further.”
The team started the season off over weekend in the USC Upstate tournament in Spartanburg, SC. The team played four games, finishing 1-3.
“Every time we play we expect to win,” Coutts said. “This weekend was about getting a feel for what we have. We’ve moved some kids around in different positions and are trying to find our starting lineup.”
The Black Bears won their first game on Friday 9-1 against North Carolina Central University. Junior catcher Jean Stevens went two for four with a home run and four 4 RBIs. Senior pitcher Beth Spoehr struck out five for the Black Bears, which helped secure the victory.
“This first weekend is really good for us to get a feel for our team,” Coutts said.
UMaine lost 5-4 to Western Carolina in their first game on Saturday. Sophomore infielder Kristen Koslosky went two for three with a pair of runs to lead Maine. Sophomore catcher EmJ Fogel also added two hits, one being a double.
The Black Bears’ second game on Saturday was a 5-1 loss to USC Upstate. Katlin Norton went one for three and scored UMaine’s only run.
UMaine lost their final game of the tournament on Sunday by a score of 9-3 against University of Kansas City-Missouri. Koslosky had another solid game, with two hits and a run. Sophomore infielder Nikki Byron added two hits as well with an RBI.
The Black Bears have a relatively young team when it comes to their age; however, many of the sophomore this year were given playing time as freshmen. Coutts doesn’t see age as a defining factor for her team.
“We have a young team age wise but we do have a lot of experience,” Coutts said. “But I never look at the age part of it. If your skill level is good and you’re going to progressively get better, then that age means nothing.”
The UMaine softball team plays again in the USF Under Armour Invitational on March 1 in Clearwater, Fla. against Stephen F. Austin State University.