Illini softball excited for Big Ten and home opener

After a month and a half on the road, the Illini softball team (14-7) is preparing for two new things: homes games and conference play.

Illinois will open Big Ten play Friday against Penn State in what also doubles as the Illini’s first home game of the season. After facing the Nittany Lions twice, the Illini’s spring break slate includes a competitive week against DePaul, Loyola Chicago and Michigan State. Although this schedule presents a new type of challenge, head coach Terri Sullivan refuses to focus on anything but her own team’s execution in the upcoming week.

“It’s an exciting conference to play in. Opening weekend is always exciting. Everyone’s at their best, and it’s something else to compete for,” Sullivan said. “Our focus just has to stay consistent on the positive part of our team.”

While junior right fielder Hope Howell could not agree more, she feels there are a few words of advice she could give to the freshmen on her team in order to prepare them mentally for Big Ten play.

“Younger girls should definitely just understand how competitive and serious the Big Ten is, but not get too psyched out about it. It’s really more exciting than anything,” Howell said. “We’re always ready to go and defend our pride on our field.”

One player who might benefit from Howell’s advice is freshman pitcher Monica Perry. While Perry has yet to face any Big Ten teams in her career, she has been able to play on Eichelberger Field several times during the fall season.

“I might need to stay a little bit more focused during our home games because the people in the stands might be a little bit more familiar to me,” Perry said. “But for the most part I’m going to keep everything the same.”

Sullivan believes Perry is fully prepared to take on the Big Ten and knows that the Illini will be behind her every step of the way.

“Monica’s a real competitive player, and no matter what field you play on, it’s 43 feet from the mound to home plate,” Sullivan said. “That’s all a pitcher needs to know.”