January 15 marked the official start of the 2018 softball season for a young Eastern Mennonite team. The Royals will open their schedule with four games at the Grand Slam Triangle Classic in Raleigh, N.C. on Feb. 24-25.
After a productive season in 2017 with an overall record of 22-16, EMU is perfecting their play and ironing out wrinkles of their performance to make the new season a successful one.
The lineup of players this season contains a handful of fresh new members but returns a healthy class of veterans. Head Coach J.D. McCurdy feels that his returners are ready to match and exceed what they learned in the previous season.
"We had to grow up fast last season, starting six freshmen, but the experience gained should be an asset for the upcoming year," he said.
Without a senior class, the young squad—featuring eight returners and ten newcomers—will be able to make strides over the next two years as a consistent unit with room for growth.
"We are restructuring our entire infield with talented young players who can make an immediate impact so we have a new dimension for 2018," said McCurdy.
Hoskins locked up a spot on the All-ODAC Third Team as an outfielder. The speedy left-hander batted .355 with team highs of 33 runs, 44 hits, 17 walks and 19 stolen bases. The stolen bases were the highest single-season total of any individual player in McCurdy's 14 seasons.
Reath returns to the lineup after finishing last season with All-ODAC honors. The First Team utility player spent most of her time as either a designated player or pitcher, where she earned a record of 11-7 with two saves in 105.2 innings. At the plate, she hit .342 with two home runs, 24 runs, and team highs with 28 RBIs and 13 doubles.
Tiffani Shaheen (Fluvanna, Va./Fluvanna County) returns to the lineup after coming off a knee injury.
"We'll look to both Tiffani and Beck for their speed in the outfield," he said. "They can also hit for average, which is a good combination along with their ability to be great leaders."
Sophomores Michaela Nichols (Luray, Va./Luray) and Taylor Hensley (Orange, Va./Orange County) are primed to be contributors this season. McCurdy notes how they are stronger physically, and with their game experience from their freshman year they should be "exciting players to watch."
Four freshmen are expected to make an appearance in the circle for the Royals, including Alia Miller (Bridgewater, Va./Turner Ashby), Erin Rockwell (Alexandria, Va./Bishop Ireton), Kelsi Martin (Buena Vista, Va./Parry McCluer), and Madison Cash (Staunton, Va./Riverheads).
Also joining the roster this year are infielders Danielle Brenneman (Waynesboro, Va./Stuarts Draft) and Makayla Morris (Standardsville, Va./William Monroe), outfielder Deborah Black (Stuarts Draft, Va./Stuarts Draft), and transfers Sam Breeden (Aroda, Va./Madison County) and Casey Webb (Hampton, Va./Bethel).
Adding collegiate experience to the team is Casey Coleman (Rockaway, N.J./Morris Knolls), Dallas Crawford (Front Royal, Va./Warren County), Brittany Viands (Hedgesville, W.V./Hedgesville), and Cassidey Chrisman (Staunton, Va./Riverheads).
Eastern Mennonite was picked seventh in the ODAC Preseason Poll, but McCurdy does not take that into account as the season begins, understanding that the team he has is talented and can make a big splash when ODAC play comes around.
One of the main things that McCurdy promotes to his team is for them to play their season "one game at a time." He builds into his players that the season is a long and strenuous one, and to stay focused as the games pick up in order to achieve their ultimate goal: to win it all.
The home opener for the Royals is set for March 17 against Capital Athletic Conference and NCAA Regional Champions, Christopher Newport University.