Starting on Friday, the University of Connecticut Women’s Softball Team will begin their season by playing in the Coastal Carolina Invitational. The event is being held down in Conway, South Carolina, with teams including Coastal Carolina University, Tennessee, and Ohio.
It has been eleven months since the last time the team played after their 2019-2020 season was cancelled due to the coronavirus. It was a disappointing end to a relatively successful season; the team had a record of 16-5 before the cancelation and was playing very well.
This is the second year of being head coach at UConn for Laura Valentino after her successful first season, and she’s bringing a relatively young lineup out this year. There are ten total underclassmen, seven freshman and three sophomores, along with six juniors, four seniors and a graduate student. That’s a good sign for the future of the team; having so many younger players means that the team will likely just continue to get better.
Over the course of this weekend, they’ll play five games in the tournament: two on both Friday and Saturday and one on Sunday. On Friday, they’ll face Ohio and Tennessee. Then, on Saturday, they’ll face Coastal Carolina University and a yet-to-be-named team, followed by another game with Tennessee on Sunday.
While this tournament is not part of their regular season, it is a good benchmark to see how the team is performing compared to how they did last season, and to see the success, or lack thereof, of individual players. A lot of eyes will be on UConn’s pitcher, senior Marybeth Olson, who has an impressive ten wins with a 1.46 ERA last season. Considering that UConn only had 16 wins, that’s a very impressive accomplishment.
She’s joined by two younger pitchers, Sophomore Meghan O’Neil and freshman Payton Kinney. The pitching was a strong point for UConn last year; they had six shutouts en route to their best first 21 games in 27 years, and with O’Neil returning that number could be even higher this season.
“The pitching was a strong point for UConn last year; they had six shutouts en route to their best first 21 games in 27 years, and with O’Neil returning that number could be even higher this season.”
However, their opponents in this pre-season tournament are not to be underestimated. While Ohio did not have the most impressive start to last season; they ended up at an 11-15 record with a sub-.300 batting average, they are bringing back a number of their best players including Allie Englant, who had an above-.400 batting average last year.
Then there’s Tennessee, which is ranked No. 23 nationally and which ended last season with a very impressive 14-9 scoreline. A legacy school for softball and a long-term threat, Tennessee has been in the preseason polls for the last 18 years in a row, making them a very long-term threat in the world of college softball.
Then there’s the host team, the Coastal Carolina University Chanticleers, who also had a very successful 2019-2020 campaign. When the season was cancelled, the Chanticleers were at a 13-8 record and their best batter, Makiya Thomas, is back to attempt to one-up her .463 batting average from last season.
This tournament is a good way for those teams who are invited to get to try out different things and give the newer players a chance to experience play at this level before Big East play starts next month. This is not the only tournament the Huskies will be playing in; they will also be participating in the FGCU Softball Tournament and the UNC Tournament. However, this is the first, and so it’s the first chance for fans to look and see if what made the team have so much success last season is still there.