Softball looks to build culture


Jason Huber

Building culture and finding leadership is the mission of the App State softball team heading into the 2015-16 season after finishing their first season in the Sun Belt Conference with a 14-35 overall record, including a 1-22 record in conference.

The App State softball team experienced a rough first season in the Sun Belt after making the transition from the Southern Conference, where they finished middle of the pack in the annual standings. The team is focused on playing well during their fall season to get ready for the spring.

Second-year coach Janice Savage feels last year was a learning experience for the team and they have plenty of room to improve.

“This year our team speed has increased, but I am still trying to just get us to grow,” Savage said. “We are a young program and we were in the middle of the Southern Conference. We made a big jump switching conferences, so we are learning how to grow and become part of the top half in the Sun Belt.”

One of the team building aspects is the annual Black and Gold scrimmage that the App State softball team holds every season to help build team work and confidence.

Senior utility hitter, Pepper Butler, who had a .233 average with six home runs last season, feels the scrimmage gives the team a chance to fight for positions and get better.

“I think it’s a good competition to get us prepared,” Butler said. “It is a good game between the team and who wants to fight for a certain position to have a big season.”

With some of last year’s top seniors, Cynthia Gomez, Sarah Warnock, Dani Heichen and Caroline Chambers graduating, Savage feels the Black and Gold scrimmage gives the team a chance to have potential breakouts from freshman and players who didn’t have the chance to play a lot last season.

“For us the Black and Gold scrimmage really makes us sit back and look at our personnel and see who we need to step up at this time or someone we weren’t expecting to shine that steps up and shines,” Savage said.

While some of the top seniors are no longer on the team, App State has brought in some new freshman faces that have a very good chance to step up.

Junior pitcher Vanessa Ciocatto, who led the team with a 6.21 ERA last season and a 4-11 record, feels the freshman class will bring some missing speed that the team lacked last season.

“I think we are looking for our freshman class to give us a different look as a team,” Ciocatto said. “We picked up a lot of speed in the freshman class, so that will give us a lot of opportunity to get on base and score more.”

Savage feels that graduating so many seniors from last season gives the team a chance to find new leadership and build a culture that is new to App State softball.

“We are going to miss that leadership from last year,” Savage said. “The biggest thing we are trying to develop and cultivate this season is getting players to step up and be leaders. We have to rely on some players who are not seniors to step up and take on that role for us. We are going to expect some freshman to do some big things for us.”

The Sun Belt Conference is one of Division I’s top softball conferences, and for App State it was a new feel as they had to play new competition last season.

Redshirt senior pitcher Katherine Johnson, who had a 3-10 record last season, said familiarity with the conference will help them improve from last season’s performance.

“We just know the competition better,” Johnson said. “Last year we were new to the conference and didn’t know anything about our competition. It gives us a better chance to be a better team.”

Savage is looking at the positives as she sees playing in such a tough conference will give the team motivation and be something to be proud of.

“I think it’s a great motivation for our team,” Savage said. “Its pretty awesome to say we play in the fifth toughest conference in Division I, ahead of the Big Ten, and there’s not many mid-major conferences that can say that.”

Ciocatto is hoping this season will have a different feel after a less-than-favorable season a year ago and feels the team will come out more prepared after a good offseason.

“We are obviously coming off a rough season, so we have been doing a good job coming back and getting mentally ready for the season,” Ciocatto said. “We have been doing a lot of running and lifting and having good practices just making sure we can fix what we couldn’t get done last year.”

With the fall season now in full swing for App State softball, the team is hoping it will prepare them for the spring season and give them a chance to improve.

“The biggest thing I am looking forward to is seeing App State the Softball team be the best they can be,” Savage said.

Story by: Jason Huber, Sports Reporter