Illinois women’s softball is ready to rumble

By Charlotte Carroll

With forecasted temperatures barely reaching 20 degrees and a chance of snow predicted, a day at the ballpark is likely one of the last things on people’s minds.

However, the Illinois softball team is looking to improve on its past as it opens the season with a game against UIC on Friday.

For the second straight year, the Illini are starting the season with an indoor tournament. Illinois will play five games in the Rosemont Rumble Friday-Sunday at The Dome at the Ballpark.

“This year, we kind of have a new mind-set,” said sophomore outfielder Kylie Johnson. “Last year, we were on the couch at the end of the season, so we don’t want that again. I think we’re really coming together and the chemistry’s great.”

After finishing 22-27 (11-12 Big Ten) last season, Illinois is looking to start strong.

Last year’s team saw a nine-game losing streak turn into a 10-game winning streak that allowed the team to move from last to sixth place in the conference after it opened Big Ten conference play at 1-11. But the magic fizzled and Illinois lost to Penn State in the Big Ten tournament.

Putting those memories to work during the offseason, the Illini are taking the upcoming year one game at a time.

“I know our players are hungry to get after it against anyone and any team from the state obviously,” Illinois head coach Terri Sullivan said. “But our prime focus has been really just playing great softball and having pitch-by-pitch concentration, and just doing our job.”

That means forgetting the 20 games to be played against teams that participated in the 2013 NCAA tournament. That means forgetting the teams from the other 18 leagues beside the Big Ten. That means forgetting the only 17 out of 56 games to be played at home.

For now, it’s all in perspective.

“It’s the first game of the year and that’s where the focus is,” Sullivan said. “That’s the first pitch. We’ve really challenged our players to mentally have that kind of approach and just focus on the next pitch and that’s difficult to do sometimes in softball. But that’s the first one slated on the schedule and there has to be someone you play first.”

Under the leadership of seniors Alex Booker and Jenna Mychko, the team hopes to carry its preseason camaraderie onto the field and compete highly both offensive and defensively. 

Mychko received the 2013 Illini’s Big Ten Sportsmanship Award. Booker was named to the All-Big Ten Second Team, and along with junior Jami Schkade, to the first ever Big Ten All-Defensive team.

“There’s a definite pressure but good pressure,” Booker said. “We have a very close-knit and tight team this year, and we’re all very talented so that actually takes the pressure off me. So I think we’re all excited to get into this weekend, and this will be a good first tournament for us.”

Though the focus is on the first pitch of the season, Booker is looking for the team to go 5-0 after preparation on Illinois’s practice turf.

“Sometimes you can be over pumped for that opening game and opening tournament,” Sullivan said. “But we really just want to stay within our game plan throughout the year and know that every game counts.”

Charlotte can be reached at [email protected]