NORTHFIELD, Vt. – The Norwich University softball team enters the 2018 season looking to continue its recent run of consistency within the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC).
The Cadets are coming off a 15-21-1 record last season and a 12-10 mark in league play. NU has qualified for the GNAC Tournament in five of the last six seasons.
Norwich defeated Emmanuel in a GNAC First Round game, before bowing out the tournament with consecutive losses to Suffolk and Albertus Magnus in the double-elimination portion of the tournament.
Head coach Mike Kemp returns for his second year and first full season on the bench for the Cadets in 2018. He took the reins of the team in early April, guiding Norwich to a 15-11-1 mark in his tenure.
"One of the things we did in the offseason was had meetings about what we wanted to achieve on the field this year and what we were going to do to get there," Kemp said. "We have enough talent in the room to be able to compete for a top-four spot in the league. But we need to change our approach and train harder in the offseason."
Kemp pointed to inconsistencies he saw during the rigors of a New England softball spring schedule that forces a lot of games to happen in a small window of time due to weather.
"We had issues with stamina and being able to stay consistent in both games of a doubleheader and then even more so on back to back doubleheaders," Kemp said. "The training in the offseason I think is going to help make a difference. We worked hard with Dan Brady and his staff to get in the weight room. They are putting us in a position with our strength, conditioning and fitness level to be more consistent this year."
Norwich returns nine players from last year's squad, including seven starters, while welcoming 11 newcomers to the squad.
NU returns its top six hitters from last season, including two GNAC All-Conference selections in junior catcher Madison Miller (Long Lake, N.Y.) and junior outfielder Naomi Rinaldo (Middlefield, Conn.).
Miller led the team with a .404 batting average, 46 hits and 16 RBIs. She earned second team all-conference honors last season as a sophomore during a breakout campaign.
Rinaldo led Norwich in most offensive categories, including hits (48), home runs (three), RBIs (31), doubles (13) and slugging percentage (.583) last season.
"I think the lineup is pretty solid," Kemp said. "We're really just replacing one starter in left field with Justina George. The team grew and played better together as the season went on. We've got a nice foundation returning with that group."
Kemp said he expects two newcomers to be able to have an impact right away as well as sees an expanded role for two returners this season.
"Madelyn Folcik and Caitlin Dailey (Topsham, Maine) should be able step right in and help make impact from Day 1," Kemp said. "I've also been really impressed with Kaylee Blanchard (Worcester, Mass.) and Felicia Armell (North Ferrisburgh, Vt.) who have stepped up and made big improvements over where they were last year."
Norwich has a small senior class once again with only Sarah Perry (New Bedford, Mass.) and Olivia Bussiere (Northfield, Vt.) in their final year of eligibility. Bussiere will be the starting right fielder, while Perry could factor in to a variety of positions including third base, center field and pitching.
Pitching will certainly be one of the early question marks for a young Cadet squad after Rachel Johnson did not return for her junior season. She was a GNAC First Team All-Conference selection last year, leading the league with 184 strikeouts.
Oliver posted a 4.21 earned run average last year and a 5-10-0 record in 104.2 innings pitched.
"We lost Rachel Johnson, who in my opinion was the best pitcher in the league," Kemp said. "Oliver is going to step in and will do well. She's a great hitter, but also plays first base as well. Perry will be No. 2 pitcher and Sprague will be at No. 3. It's always the case in baseball and softball that you have to have pitching to be successful."
Norwich was picked to finish eighth in the GNAC Preseason Coaches' Poll out of 13 teams with the addition of Regis this year.
"I'm optimistic that we will be in the hunt," Kemp said. "JWU and Saint Joe's are probably the top two teams and then it's a big group competing for third through eighth. We should be right there if we play the way we're capable of and get pitching."