Softball conditioning to prepare team for spring



By Emily Bayci

After a successful fall, the Illinois softball players have begun their preparations for the competitive spring season.

“This fall provided us with a lot of experience so we could help the nine new players adapt to the team and develop team chemistry,” senior co-captain and catcher Lana Armstrong said.

The Illini captured victories in seven of their eight games in a schedule that featured the Illinois State Tournament in Bloomington, Ill., and four home games against junior college teams.

“Playing the junior college teams were solid victories with errorless games and shutouts where the new girls got used to playing in our stadium,” head coach Terry Sullivan said. “This also gave us an opportunity to mix and match with the line up and the batting order.”

Even though the Illini must remain off the field now because practices can not officially begin until after winter break due to NCAA rules, they keep active in their training regimen.

Led by assistant strength coach Ryan Marker, the women run the ramps at Memorial Stadium, participate in gasser sprints, and do strenuous lifting drills – something that helps the team develop its “mental toughness and grow together,” according to junior co-captain and outfielder Hope Howell.

“One of the most intense parts of conditioning is our competition for the strongest person on the team by calculating our strength index with our body index and tracking our progress,” Armstrong said.

With nine new freshman adjusting to the team, veteran leadership is crucial for the Illini, Armstrong, Howell and sophomore Danielle Zymkowitz have helped filled that role.

“These women are three great leaders who have stepped up and made themselves available to help the new players learn about what it means to compete in the Big Ten,” Sullivan said.

Illinois has had a lot of adjustments to make from last season, due to the loss of what Howell calls “most of our big hitters and speed.”

“Now we have to learn that we can’t always save the day with home runs,” Howell said.

Even with the various changes, the team used their impressive fall performance to build confidence while the new players contributed a renewed energy and a fresh attitude.

“We are coming together with a common defense and greater execution of offense. We always have to work on breaking the game down and perfecting the individual fundamentals of it,” Sullivan said.

The Illini will continue conditioning throughout fall and winter in order to perfect all glitches.

“We hope to get an early lead this season and improve 1 percent after every game,” Sullivan said. “We want to establish ourselves as a team and make it to the World Series.”