Two seasons ago, the Emerson women's softball team defeated its conference competition to win the GNAC tournament and secure an automatic bid into the NCAA Division III tournament.
Last season, they failed to match their previous success, losing to St. Joseph's College of Maine in the GNAC semi-finals.
This year, with the number-one seed under their belts, the Lions hope to return to the NCAA tournament by winning the GNAC.
"We've never been the first seed going into the playoffs before, so we have a lot of confidence," said sophomore pitcher Lynn Herman. "We're really excited. We want to get the three wins and be GNAC champions. Our energy is just incredible right now."
This year, the Lions posted a program-best 21-3 record in the GNAC. Herman attributes this to what she views as an unprecedented level of closeness between the members of the team.
"One of the main things is that I don't think this team has ever had the connection and the chemistry that we do now," she said. "And I think that has a lot to do with it, just having the chemistry and the trust and the friendship between one another has made this team what it is, along with the talent."
The Lions clinched the top GNAC spot with an April 18 sweep of Albertus Magnus College. Head Coach Phil McElroy was aware from the get-go that if the Lions were to win, they would secure the high-seed. He kept this a secret from his players until after the game ended.
"It was one of those things where we went into the game trying to win, came out with a W and he told us aftwerwards," said freshman pitcher Kelsey Tuthill. "It was pretty exciting."
The teams occupying the top two seeds, Emerson and St. Joseph's, have a distinct advantage in the form of byes in the two preliminary rounds of the tournament. Herman said this position takes a weight off the teams' shoulders.
"It's just made it a lot easier, we don't have to play those preliminary games," the broadcast journalism major said. "Teams have to face us. They have to play to our level, and being first-seed has made it easier because we do play a lower seed, and we only have to play three games to win it."
The Lions will begin their playoff quest in the quarter-finals on April 24. Their opponent will be determined earlier the same day, after the end of the preliminary rounds.
The Lions' potential opponents in their quarter-final match are eight-seed Simmons, five-seed Norwich or four-seed Pine Manor. The Lions proved a match for all three teams in the regular season, sweeping Pine Manor and Norwich and splitting with Simmons.
Of the 19 women on the roster, only seven are upperclassmen. This means most of the team lacks collegiate postseason playtime with the exception of the veterans of last season's brief playoff venture. Despite this relative lack of experience, Tuthill is confident in the team's abilities.
"I think that getting this season, the regular season, under our belts was a good enough experience builder for us," the communication sciences and disorders major said. "We're all pretty used to it by now, I think, and our seniors help a lot."
The Lions have been on a tear during the end of their regular season play, winning 14 of 16 games in the month of April. Herman hopes they can keep their game at this high level throughout the playoffs.
"We're warming up to the pitching, we're kind of feeling the game more, we're getting more at-bats and more practices," she said. "Everything is kind of cooking right now, hopefully we can carry our streak into the playoffs."