For the majority of Emerson students, spring break is a time to flee work and organizational discipline. It provides an opportunity to rest the body and mind from the demands of academia. For the Emerson College women's softball team, spring break meant just the contrary. The team traded tanning lotion for aluminum bats and bathing suits for polyester uniforms.
Head coach Phil McElroy takes his team to a warmer climate every year for a rigorous week of competition and bonding among the players in preparation for the upcoming season. This is the fifth time in as many seasons that McElroy has taken the squad to Florida for spring training.
Due to strong recruiting, the core of this year's team is made up of five freshmen and three sophomores out of the 13 total players who went to Florida. McElroy said despite the ages of the players, the skill level is there.
"There's a lot of talent on the team," McElroy said. "[In] our infield, we have two freshmen and two sophomores. They're talented, but young."
With the influx of younger players on the field, McElroy said it is vital the older players become leaders on and off the playing ground.
"It's very important, especially for the juniors," he said. "We only have one senior. I've asked the juniors to step up [and be leaders]. So far they have."
McElroy said he feels his team can meet the high standards set by recent squads. The team was selected for the Eastern College Athletic Conference (ECAC) Tournament in 2004 and 2005 while compiling a combined record of 52-29 in the last two seasons.
The team traveled to Cape Coral, Fla. on March 3 and played 10 games, winning seven of them. McElroy said he was pleased with the results.
"I'm very happy with a 7-3 record. I would have been happy with 5-5, but I'm ecstatic about 7-3."
The lone senior on the team, captain Sara Collings, pitched in five contests, and her record stands at 4-1, with a 1.41 earned run average (ERA).
"I was happy with what Sara Toga gave us," McElroy said. "We will be looking to her for leadership throughout the year."
Some of the younger players also participated very well during the games, he said. Dubbed as "versatile" by McElroy, freshman catcher/outfielder Bri Papa batted .400 through 10 games.
Fellow freshman Brittany Cooke led the team with a .406 batting average.
Collings, Papa and freshman pitcher/outfielder Tricia Carrabba each recorded a homerun during the week.
Papa attributed her outburst of hitting to her love of batting.
"We've been working on hitting a lot in practice," Papa said. "Hitting's probably my favorite part of the game."
Junior pitcher Heather Drobiarz praised her younger teammates on what they have accomplished thus far this season.
"I have confidence in all players, but the freshmen have really stepped up," Drobiarz said. "They're going to be a big part of the team."
Many of the players agreed that the week in training has resulted in camaraderie and a bond between the players.
"Spring training is awesome," said freshman shortstop Catie McDonough. "I love my teammates and I have learned a lot from my coaches. It's a great experience all around."
McDonough said she is optimistic about the upcoming season and attributes the past success of Emerson softball to the coaching staff.
"[McElroy] is very knowledgeable and strict when he needs to be. The coaches keep us focused every game," McDonough said.
Overall, McElroy said he believes his squad has the talent and the right combination of everything to win the Great Northeast Athletic Conference (GNAC) for the first time in Emerson's history.
"If we stay healthy, there's no reason why we shouldn't compete for the title," he said. "I'm optimistic about the season, but it's a guarded optimism."
Drobiarz, on the other hand, is more brash in her predictions for the softball team.
"We're planning on taking the GNAC," Drobiarz said. "We're really concentrating on hitting. Once we wake up our bats, we're going to be untouchable."
Mark Meagher contributed to this report.,Jay O'Connell