By: Connor Hanson – Staff Writer
Coming off a program best 39-14 (20-2 Atlantic 10) season and being the Atlantic 10 regular season champion, softball head coach Cara LaPlaca and company are looking to keep the bar high and have another successful season.
LaPlaca, who is entering her ninth year as the head coach, has won at least 20 games in six of her first eight seasons. She dished out a lot of credit to her inner pitching unit saying that the team’s success revolves around the success in the circle.
“If we get consistent performances from game to game in the circle from our starters, we’re able to get our starters a lot of innings and our relievers can chew out a couple outs on the back end of the game and therefore have success,” LaPlaca said in an exclusive interview with Flyer News. “If our starters can’t go deep into a game or double header then we may see that we might have some struggles.”
The team did see multiple key rotation players, among others, leave the team due to graduation. Kayla English, A-10 pitcher of the year; Tiffany Ricks, A-10 player of the year; Natalie Mariano, first team All A-10 outfielder and infielder Jordan Jennings all graduated this past spring, leaving some gaps for the team to fill.
“Losing three key bats and a great arm in the circle gives us a tough task to replace the numbers that they produced,” LaPlaca said. “That is why we’re going to need collective production from our entire lineup. No one person is going to be able to be able to fill the shoes of our key departures, but if we have balance up and down our lineup and defensively, we can hopefully shoulder that burden.”
LaPlaca will still have some strength returning to her lineup as pitcher and A-10 Rookie of the Year, Manda Cash, first team A-10 outfielder Gabrielle Snyder and All-Rookie infielder Kailee Budicin are all back for another year with the Flyers.
Cash, now a sophomore, feels a lot more settled and confident coming into this season.
“Having a year under my belt is nice because I won’t have the nervousness that surrounded me this past season, and I should be able to pick up where I left off,” Cash said.
Cash led the pitching staff with a 1.49 earned run average last season, recording a 13-2 record to go along with eight saves.
Another returning starter to the Flyers is senior infielder Kennedy Haynes, who now finds herself in more of a leadership role going into this season.
“This program has come a long way, and so helping the freshmen and underclassmen understand where we have come from is a big deal and knowing that we can’t take any of this for granted,” Haynes said. “All the success we had last year was great, but we are still trying to build off that and create a culture of success for this year and many years to come.”
A big thing to note about the Dayton Flyers this season is that they play their first 24 games away. Due mostly to the tumultuous, unpredictable weather in Ohio, the Flyers will not play a home game until mid March when Akron pays a visit. A stretch like that can prove to be a test for a lot of teams as they’re always traveling and won’t have a home crowd; however, similar to the five seniors leaving, there seems to be no qualms about this issue.
“Our upperclassmen are used to that schedule, and the rigors of our travel, so I don’t think it’s going to have an effect in terms of our performance in any way,” LaPlaca said. “The thing we look forward to is our team being exposed to a lot of different playing styles, so we would like to see them show some consistency in defending a power team, a short game team and then offensively being able to generate opportunities regardless of who we are playing.”
With all that in mind, the Flyers were tabbed as the third best team out of the conference’s 10 squads in the preseason coaches’ poll, sitting just behind Saint Louis and Fordham. Fordham, who has won three straight A-10 tournament championships, tallied nine first place votes while Dayton had the other.
With a new season comes a new slate, and for seniors like Haynes, it will unfortunately be their last go around as a Flyer softball player.
“I’m definitely going to miss being around my teammates, the times that we spend traveling and all the memories we’ve made on and off the field,” Haynes said. “But I’m real excited to be able to leave everything on the field this year and hopefully make history at the end of the year and win our first A-10 championship.”
Photo: Incoming university president Eric Spina visited a Dayton softball practice last week in the Collins Gymnasium. The Flyers begin their season on Feb. 12 against Presbyterian. Chris Santucci/Multimedia Editor