The tumbling leaves symbolize more than autumn for Seton Hall’s softball program, as the fall season is the preparation for a long-awaited Big East tournament appearance.
Despite missing out on the conference playoffs by .003 percentage points last season, the Pirates return a surplus of starters while ushering in one of their largest freshman classes in years. The optimism is at its peak for the unit, and the falls allow coaches to continue the development of a team on the cusp postseason play.
To introduce the underclassmen and veterans back into competition, the team runs an assessment protocol throughout the offseason that is re-adjusted every two weeks to determine what needs to be worked on. This allows coaches to attack the weaknesses in individuals one step at a time, especially for those players who are seen as projects by the staff.
A heavy influence in the evaluation of the players are analytics. For batters, these metrics track aspects such as plate discipline and swing path, while for pitchers it measures activities such as how hard balls are hit against them and how the defense should adjust to their pitching style. Although one of the most important parts of the program, the analytics are not shoved in the face of the players.
“The goal with the measurements is to integrate it into practice in a way that makes it invisible,” assistant coach Daniel Nicolaisen said. “So, for the first week to two weeks, we have to work through kinks in the process, but eventually, it should be invisible and tracking things that we can look at after practice to get a much more accurate picture of what each player is good at and their weak spots. It allows us to get that clear picture so we can accurately prescribe drills and solutions to girls while checking progress.”
With the season not starting for a few months, it also enables for Nicolaisen’s favorite variable of the fall.
“(My favorite thing about the fall is) having a lot of time to practice, being able to develop,” Nicolaisen said. “In terms of where we are at now, we are in a really good spot. We missed out on the playoffs, and this year, quite honestly, you can tell the team does not want to have that happen again. We are at a good spot right now, especially relative to where we were at the same time last year.”
Yet, what statistics cannot track are the vibes of the locker room. With nine players entering the ranks of Division I softball, it serves as a milestone in these player’s lives. To make the transition easier to the diamond and college life, the program has implemented a “spotter system.” The spotter system pairs a freshman with a veteran player so the underclassmen can feel comfortable in a new phase of life. The partners will meet up for “spotter dates” and text back and forth to get the freshmen ready.
“All the returners have been phenomenal in paving the way for the freshman so they can have a much easier time the first couple weeks,” Nicolaisen said. “It was definitely a little bit of a speed bump having so many kids, but it is important to take a deep breath and carefully in go through everything and integrate everybody. They have been fantastic.”
The players have also taken the next step in solidifying relationships without the aid of the coaching staff. Players who share the same position have begun to go out to lunch and dinner more often to talk about their personal lives and what is occurring on the field.
Ultimately, the practice style and chemistry are the building blocks to the focus the team holds in accomplishing their goal of reaching the conference tournament. The objective is a mentality shared by all.
“You can tell every single person on the team has been driving towards it,” said Nicolaisen.
Robert Fallo can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Find him on Twitter @robert_fallo