Softball to use spring break for practice, preparation for tough upcoming schedule

By Rich Mayor

As members of the Illinois community prepare to depart for exotic and interesting locations across the world for spring break, the Illini (14-11) softball team will be in perhaps the most exotic and interesting of all locations – Champaign-Urbana.

After traveling to warm locales such as Las Vegas, Tampa, Miami and Boca Raton, Fla., and Texas over the past few weeks as the rest of the University was stuck in the cold and snowy C-U area, the tables have turned on the softball team. But this is a good situation for the Illini.

“The team will be in town, which I think is great,” head coach Terri Sullivan said. “It’s always a good team-building thing, with most of the students being gone. But that’s what it’s like for a college athlete that plays a spring sport; you’re committed to that, but they know the rewards are big. They have a lot of fun together, and the fun part is that they’re like professional athletes at this time because they don’t have school as much.”

The team will use the extra time to settle down and employ certain elements of practice that aren’t usually available to them.

“We’ll probably have a lot of live hitting, stuff we don’t get to do with our normal practice schedule,” senior left fielder Makenzie Smith said about how the Illini will take advantage of their free time. “Usually it’s just defense and hitting. Now, we’ll get to scrimmage each other a little bit more in game-like situations.”

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Next up for the Illini is Illinois State (10-10) on March 18 in Bloomington, Ill. This in-state rivalry game against a deceptively tough Redbird squad will mark the first time Illinois has played in its home state this season.

After their battle in Bloomington, the Illini will depart for Fullerton, Calif., for the talent-loaded Judi Garman Classic. The Illini will face New Mexico, No. 1 Arizona State, No. 20 Fresno State, Utah and No. 25 San Diego State in the tournament. If Arizona State can remain at its current No. 1 ranking, Illinois will have played each of the current top-5 teams in the country (Arizona State, Alabama, UCLA, Florida and Texas A&M;).

To prepare for such a tough upcoming schedule, the Illini plan on focusing specifically on some problematic areas.

“We always look at what we do in games and how we can improve, as well as the fundamentals,” Sullivan said. “We’re continuing to work on our two-strike approach; we want to cut down on strikeouts at least a little bit. But we have big hitters, so with big hitters come big strikeouts. We also need to work on knocking in runners in scoring position.”