Softball heads for warmer weather

The women of the St. John’s softball team won’t have to deal with all the snow on the ground in February: they’re flying south for the winter.

The team will open the 2009 season with four tournaments in warm-weather states beginning this weekend with its first appearance in the FIU Tournament and culminating in the Hawaii Spring Fling set to take place over Spring Break.

“It’s exciting,” head coach Amy Kvilhaug said. “Our first time on dirt will be our first game.”

Despite the excitement, that should raise a red flag to fans of Red Storm softball. Because of the limited resources northeast baseball and softball programs have during the winter months, returning to midseason form may take until the midseason to actually accomplish.

All the more reason the program scheduled to play tournaments in Florida, Virginia, North Carolina, and Hawaii before conference play starts.

However, senior outfielder Alyssa Clark is confident that by the time the team plays its first game in the FIU tournament Friday against Temple, it will be ready to compete at a high level.

“Communication is the number one thing we need to work on,” Clark said. “Right now our facilities are limited-we have Belson [Stadium], DaSilva [Field], and [indoor practices]. We’ve been working so hard to come together as a team before we step foot on the field.”

Both Clark and Kvilhaug feel these tournaments are more important than just wins and losses by the end of the season. They each feel that the team needs to work through the ‘kinks’ and layoff of the offseason.

But coming together immediately may not be as easy as it sounds. The 2009 Red Storm softball team will introduce eight freshmen, and Kvilhaug estimates that five or six will be in the starting lineup. Kvilhaug says that playing in these tournaments will tell a lot about the new faces.

“We knew their strengths and weaknesses when we recruited them,” Kvilhaug said. “It’s tough to tell what kind of mental toughness the player brings to the table.”

In addition, Clark is coming off an estimated seven surgeries in the last three years, stemming from a foot injury suffered during a tournament in her freshman year. She is well aware that this season she will likely fight for as many at-bats as she can get.

“Since this is my senior year, I just want to be out there and be with the team,” Clark said. “I want to help and contribute on the field, but I also help and contribute on the bench and contribute by being a leader and as a senior on the team.”

Aside from evaluating their own talent this preseason, Kvilhaug and her staff will be keeping an eye on Georgetown, who they play February 15 at FIU and for the first time this year as the Hoyas join the Big East conference.

“We’ll gather as much information [about them] as possible, their pitching tendancies and playing style,” Kvilhaug said. “They’ll be doing the same to us.”

Two weeks ago, Big East softball coaches gave the Red Storm a preseason ranking of 10th in the conference, ahead of only Rutgers, Seton Hall, and Georgetown.

Neither Kvilhaug nor Clark is taking it personally. In fact, Clark sees it as motivation to play well early in the season.

“If we execute the way we want to execute as a team,” Clarke said, “that’s success to us.”