Lisa Sweeney had a good feeling about her Princeton University softball team before it even played a game this spring.
“We went into the first weekend with confidence,” said first-year head coach Sweeney, referring to the team’s season-opening appearance at the North Florida Osprey Invitational in Jacksonville, Fla. from March 1-3. “We knew we had put in the work in February to be ready for games.”
The Tigers went 3-2 in the Florida event and then improved on that last weekend as they posted a 3-1 record at the UMBC Dawg Pound Invitational in Baltimore, Md.
In action last Saturday, Princeton fell 4-3 to Seton Hall before bouncing back to top Coppin State 6-3.
“Seton Hall is a good team; we had a freshman [Shanna Christian] pitching and it was a good test for her,” said Sweeney.
“It came down to one pitch, a good hitter for them hit a home run. It was a good test to go against competition like that. Coppin State is a very good hitting team, they are consistent and have power. Alex Peyton threw very well.”
A day later, Princeton was clicking on all cylinders as it defeated Mt. St. Mary’s 4-2 and then routed host UMBC 11-2.
“There are still things we need to work on but we can take away a lot of positives,” said Sweeney, reflecting on the Sunday sweep which lifted the Tigers to a record of 6-3.
“Up and down the lineup, we are hitting well. This week, we are talking about not leaving runners on. When we get runners in scoring position, we have to capitalize.”
Sophomore Alyssa Schmidt has been capitalizing on her opportunities so far this season as she is hitting at a .514 clip with a team-high 19 hits in nine appearances.
“I can’t say enough about her,” said Sweeney, referring to Schmidt. “Her approach in the box is beautiful. She is relaxed in every situation; her approach to each at-bat is the same. She is really confident right now.”
Sweeney is developing confidence in her batting order as five players besides Schmidt are hitting .300 or better in Kayla Bose (.529), Sarah McGowan (.438), Maddie Cousens (.333), Peyton (.321), and Tory Roberts (.300).
“I think that is due to all the hard work we are putting in and confidence,” said Sweeney, who team is hitting .313 overall and has scored 47 runs in nine games. “We are not just working on the physical part of hitting, we are working on developing confidence mentally and taking a positive approach.”
Pitching has been another positive for the Tigers in the early going as Princeton has a team ERA of 2.55 spreading innings among several hurlers.
“Liza [Kuhn], Alex, and Shanna are all doing well; Meredith Browne is a sophomore and she will also help,” said Sweeney, a four-time Patriot League Pitcher of the Year at Lehigh during her college days.
“The pitchers have all been working hard, they are some of the grittiest players on our team and some of our hardest workers. We have a real pitching unit. When someone is on on the mound, the others are happy for her and want her to do well. When you are on the mound, it is great to know that everyone is behind you.”
Princeton has been getting some great leadership from its corps of seniors which includes Candy Button, Nikki Chu, and Lizzy Pierce in addition to Peyton and Kuhn.
“All five seniors bring it everyday,” said Sweeney, “They are relentless. They set the tone for the team; what we are about and where we are heading. Their time is limited, every senior goes through that. They fall in love with the program and they want their time to be meaningful.”
Sweeney feels that she and her players have wasted little time in getting on the same page.
“I think we are melding very well; they have shown a willingness to embrace a new coach,” asserted Sweeney.
“They are good people; they are willing to learn and to do things a little differently. My assistant coach, Jen Lapicki, is unbelievable. In terms of the culture we want to create and our values, we match up perfectly. The players see that we are a united front.”