By Kylie Owoc
Last season, the Carlow softball team dominated in both the United States Collegiate Athletic Association (USCAA) and the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference (KIAC), which has now become the River States Conference (RSC).
Head coach Bob Sirko guided the team to a 30-14 record and was named the USCAA Coach of the Year. The Celtics placed third in the KIAC and qualified for the USCAA National Championship Tournament, advancing to championship game and finishing as the runner-up for the first time in Carlow history.
The Celtics ranked fifth in the 2017 River States Conference Softball Preseason Coaches’ Poll, voted on by the 10 head coaches in the conference. Teams ranked in front of the Celtics were top-ranked Rio Grande, No. 2 IU Southeast, No. 3 Point Park and No. 4 WVU Tech.
Last season, Carlow led the RSC in batting average, at .329, and RBIs per game, at 5.71. They also finished second in fielding percentage, at .960.
The Celtics return two of the conference’s top hitters from last season – Kelsey Geyer (JR/Pittsburgh, Pa.), who led the RSC with a .476 batting average, and Kenzie Young (SR/Leechburg, Pa.), who finished second in the RSC in RBIs per game (.91).
Carlow pitcher Madison Miller (SO/North Huntingdon, Pa.) was also led the conference in strikeouts per game (6.19).
Although the Celtics remain proud of their accomplishments last season, they know this is a new year and there is much work to be done.
“Each year is different,” Sirko said. “This team has to write its own story. You cannot guarantee performance will continue from year to year.”
The Celtics have nine seniors – Young, Haley Stedeford (Pittsburgh, Pa.), Natalie Bashada (Pittsburgh, Pa.), Sydney Greece (Pittsburgh, Pa.), Allison Hryadil (Pittsburgh, Pa.), Marla Small (West Mifflin, Pa.), Breezy Weaver (York, Pa.), Molly Patsch (Rochester, Pa.) and Hayley Klein (Carnegie, Pa.) – and Sirko believes senior leadership and experience will be one of the team’s strengths.
The Celtics also have five newcomers – Ashley Hoak (Elizabeth, Pa.), Maria Lamonde (Pittsburgh, Pa.), Lauren McLaughlin (Greensburg, Pa.), Caitlyn Suter (Monaca, Pa.) and Abby Tatgenhorst (Byesville, Ohio).
Sirko expects the young group to “understand their role, work hard to grow their role, learn and develop”.
Sirko said the team always sets a goal to reach 20 wins. If they can achieve 20 wins in a season, then the likelihood of reaching the postseason is high.
The top eight teams in the conference make the RSC tournament, which begins May 5. The conference regular-season champion and the conference tournament champion earn automatic bids to the NAIA National Championship Opening Round.
Carlow begins spring training games in Titusville, Fla., on March 4. The trip will feature a rematch of last year’s USCAA National Championship game, against champion St. Mary of the Woods, on March 5.