It’s the start of a new chapter.
Coming off a season where the Simon Fraser University softball team made an appearance in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference championship game, change is the thing as the program launches the new season this weekend.
Out is long-time program honcho Mike Renney, whose trademark moustache was part of the decor as the coach oversaw the club’s day-to-day operations for the previous 24 years.
And under first-year head coach Michelle Peters, the team will take on a new direction while looking to build on last year’s championship appearance.
First things, first – and that means travel to Tucson, Arizona for the Division 2 Cactus Classic.
"Our whole team is excited to see how the last five months of work will translate in competition," said Peters, who came to SFU after a stellar five-year stint helming the Douglas College team through the Northwest Athletic Conference. "I knew since I took over this program that it takes time to implement change but it's a necessary part of getting us ready for this new chapter.
“This group of ladies are becoming stronger people every day by learning how to be great in the ballpark, off the field and in the classroom. That development will certainly have a positive impact on our team on the field."
Last season, SFU secured a berth to the GNAC championship for the first time since 2013, after compiling a 15-13 record in conference play (21-19 overall). The team made an extended run in the tournament but fell just short of capturing the title. With the graduation of six starters from that squad, the Clan was picked by league coaches to finish fifth in the standings in 2019.
SFU returns 13 players from last year's roster, including Burnaby native Kendra Ho. The Cariboo Hill Secondary alumna and her fellow upperclassmen have the responsibility of providing leadership and support for the five sophomores and six freshmen.
Peters expects that all 18 of her athletes could get multiple opportunities each game to contribute to the team's goals.
"It's important to empower our players to find a way to ignite passion and confidence in their play that will translate into sparking that in others," she said. "We want them to support and encourage their teammates and remember to enjoy the moments of personal and team achievements every time they are on the field."
As a team, the Clan batted .265 and scored 172 runs on 289 hits last year. A pair of All-GNAC Honourable Mentions will return to the batting order in 2019 -- sophomore Kate Fergusson was second on the team with a .315 batting average and a .351 on base percentage, while senior Hailey Gearey hit .303 and had a team-high 11 stolen bases.
Also expected to be an offensive threat for SFU are juniors Chelsea Hotner and Amanda Janes as well as sophomore Alex Ogg. Peters has had her players focusing on the mental side of hitting since September.
"Our ladies are learning what each of their strengths are, where they need to put in more work and how to go up to the plate with confidence and a plan. I think this is where we may see the biggest change offensively going forward."
On defence, Simon Fraser led the league with a .972 fielding percentage last season and committed the fewest errors with 32. Peters will look to maintain that strong defensive record and having consistency in the catcher position is key. Janes and freshman Georgia Ogg will have a big impact on the field, leading the Clan defensively each game.
When it comes to pitching, SFU has big shoes to fill following the graduation of Alia Stachoski. The PoCo righthander carried the mail with a 3.19 earned run average over 171 innings, striking out 117 batters. What Peters does have are four active pitchers who bring different skill sets to the mound.
Jessica Tate returns for her final season with the Clan after pitching in 87.1 innings in 2018, striking out 22 batters and earning five wins and a save. She will be joined by Ho, who saw limited action in 2018 – 6.2 innings with a 5.25 ERA – but has come up through the Delta Heat organization. The duo's experience playing against GNAC and West Region opponents will be valuable. Peters will also be calling on sophomore Jessica Fasolino, a transfer from Douglas College, and freshman Anissa Zacharczuk to make a difference in the circle.
"These pitchers are learning daily about what they're good at and their personal keys to success and they will be working hard in every game to get wins for the team," said Peters.
Simon Fraser will kick-off the 2019 season with the six-game D2 Cactus Classic from Feb. 15 to 17 in Arizona, facing the University of Texas of the Permian Basin and Black Hills State on the opening day.
The team returns home to host Northwest Nazarene for a pair of doubleheaders on March 1 and 2 at Burnaby Mountain’s Beedie Field. Last season, the Nighthawks ended the Clan's bid for a berth to the NCAA Championship with a 1-0 win in the GNAC title game.