Freshman Paige Berkmeyer looks to start collegiate career strong in Illinois softball’s fall games

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Photo Courtesy of Illini Athletics

Sophomore Kelly Ryono and Senior Bella Loya hug after a good inning on May 8. The softball team improves upon their skills as the team starts practicing for the upcoming season.

By Renato Arteaga, Staff Writer

The Eichelberger Field is back in action for fall play for the first time for more than a year.

The Illini softball team will be competing at home against St. Mary of the Woods and Western Illinois for their first fall exhibition games of the season on Saturday.

The COVID-19 pandemic forced the cancellations of these fall exhibition matches, as well as all playoff competitions, last year. 

Head coach Tyra Perry will be entering her sixth season with a chance to get her team back to NCAA Regional competition for the first time since 2019.

Last year, the team finished its shortened season with a 24-20 record and finished with a 7-9 away record.

These fall exhibition matches will mark the collegiate debut for quite a few underclassmen on the team, including freshman Paige Berkmeyer.

Berkmeyer, a native of Wadsworth, Ohio, is one of eight freshmen who joined the program this past summer. She praised her freshman class for all the abilities they’ve showcased so far in practice.

“I love our class,” Berkmeyer said. “We have a lot of different positions with a lot of depth. We have good speed, good power and good energy between all the freshmen, so it’s a good dynamic.”

These upcoming games also mark the first time some sophomores are competing during the fall, since many of them didn’t get a chance to perform due to the COVID-19 pandemic last year.

Regardless, there is still a ton of development opportunities for these underclassmen thanks to the large senior and graduate student class on the team, according to Berkmeyer.

“When we came in, they came and took us like we’ve been on the team,” Berkmeyer said. “We were very welcomed. They know we’re freshmen, so they always back us up and show us good leadership.”

Berkmeyer also praised Perry for the great influence she has had for all the younger athletes on the team so far this season.

“Coach Perry knows what she’s talking about,” Berkmeyer said. “From fundamentals to hitting, she allows us to learn from her and play on her team, and overall, she makes it a great environment to be around.”

The exhibition match against St. Mary of the Woods is scheduled to start at 12:30 p.m., while the Western Illinois matchup is scheduled for 3 p.m.

Berkmeyer understands her inexperience might be challenging for her first collegiate competition, but she praised her team’s winning mentality as their greatest attribute for their upcoming fall battles.

“I know I’m not going to be perfect, so I came in wanting to be aggressive and not be so hesitant or hold myself back at all,” Berkmeyer said. “As a team, we are very big on being aggressive. We want to compete and compete hard. We don’t want to give away easy wins, so I think it’ll be a great season.”

 

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