SMITHFIELD, R.I. – Depth and veteran leadership will be key to the Bryant University softball team's success in Nick French's first year as head coach this spring.
After a 14-31 season last year, the Bulldogs are coming off a successful fall that included winning the Ocean State Cup. Bryant looks to carry that momentum into its spring season as they head to Florida to start the season on Feb. 8.
Bryant returns over 70 percent of its run production from last season led by seniors Kaleigh Goulart (Marion, Mass.) and Jessica Gradillas (Nogales, Ariz.). The duo finished 1-2 last season, driving in 45 runs. Bryant has been putting in countless hours this offseason to improve further on the offensive end by taking advantage of the Conaty Indoor Athletic Center.
"We are able to get a lot of at bats against live pitching in our indoor facility and create a lot of game-like situations that a lot of other teams probably can't in the Northeast," French said. "I think that will translate as we go because this week will not be the first time that we see live pitching."
Along with Goulart and Gradillas, the infield will also feature Marianna Politis (Arcadia, Calif.), Dakota Bilodeau (Milford, N.H.) and Alexandra Hickey (St. John, Ind.). Politis will see significant playing time behind the plate this year appearing in 43 games last season recording 62 putouts and 76 assists. Bilodeau and Hickey combined for five homeruns and drove in 16 runs as true freshmen last season.
Bryant returns the majority of its pitching with Colby Norris (Toano, Va.), Gabrielle Ermish (Pottstown, Pa.), and Sarah McKeveny (Bohemia, N.Y.). The trio combined for 111 strikeouts last season as McKeveny led with 55 and ranked third in the conference with 6.1 strikeouts per seven innings.
"They've all pitched at this level and have experience and have done a very good job this preseason in the fall of commanding the strike zone," French said.
Norris is the only senior pitcher for the Black and Gold, appearing in 20 games and notching the only save last year. In her career, Norris has appeared in 71 games and tallied 122 strikeouts.
"Colby is like a captain of the pitching staff," French said. "She really leads all of them and holds them accountable while being the one they look to for support."
Bryant's coaching staff agreed that the majority of their strengths will lie in the outfield this season with the massive depth that the Bulldogs have. The Black and Gold have an abundance of true outfielders that can play in multiple positions out there. The leadership will come from the junior class as captain Helaina Michaud (Phoenixville, Pa.) and center fielder Tiffany Bell (Egg Harbor City, N.J.) return for a third year. Michaud has proven to be a strong defensive player, while Bell has been a menace on the bases with 10 stolen bases and an OBP of .369. The outfield also returns Morgan Powell (Murrieta, Calif.) who contributed the second-most stolen bases with six, and the lone All-NEC Second Team selection sophomore Gianna Ceccarelli (Claremont, Calif.).
"We are very excited to have Gianna back and see her continue to grow here at Bryant," French said. "She has adjusted to college pitching pretty quickly, so it's just a matter of continuing that."
The Black and Gold also welcomes in five new faces to the group including Jocelyn Bodington (Cumberland, R.I.), Toni Camarillo (Corona, Calif.), Carlyn Hernandez (Cypress, Calif.), Jane Owens (Scituate, R.I.), and Allison Tomaino (Monmouth Beach, N.J.).
"They are all growing and learning every day," French said. "They have played a really high level of travel ball which will certainly translate to the NEC, but the speed of play is still something that they are getting used to."
Bryant kicks off its season this week on February 8 as the Bulldogs travel down to Miami, Fla. for the Felsberg Invitational hosted by Florida International. The Bulldogs will endure a 29-game road stretch, which will include two nationally ranked teams, No. 6 Georgia and No. 9 South Carolina, before returning to Smithfield for Northeast Conference play on March 30.