By Leo Hainline ’22
Few programs in Friartown have experienced a turnaround these past few years like the Providence College Softball Team. Coach Jill Karwoski took over in 2018 and led the Friars to their best record since 2005 in her first season as head coach. Like many other sports, PC’s softball season was cut short last spring. The team is now eager to make the most of the opportunity that the COVID-19 pandemic took away from them last season in order to further establish themselves as a competitive force in the Big East.
The pandemic has forced the program to adjust to many new challenges. “There have been a lot of adaptations and adjustments in the past several months as you could imagine—from the coaching staff perspective, I think it was important to be open and transparent with everything,” said Karwoski. “We did our best to keep the lines of communication open throughout the pandemic from the moment where our season got shut down last spring to even today.”
Given the ever-changing and unpredictable nature of this season, the players have taken initiative and have created a motto that will guide the team through the season: adapt or lose. “I think it really sets a tone that we’re getting mentally and physically prepared for anything and everything this season,” stated Karwoski. “I think it’ll come in handy.”
The Friars have four seniors on their roster and one graduate student, Crista San Antonio ’20GS, who took advantage of the NCAA’s decision to grant graduating student-athletes the option to take an extra year of eligibility. “We love having veterans come back that are seasoned and experienced, and she brings that to the table.”
PC also added Sarah Gunderson ’20GS to the roster, a pitcher who played her previous four years at the University of Rhode Island. She will add depth to a veteran rotation that includes Julia Murphy ’21 and Olivia Sprofera ’21, alongside ace Daniela Alvarez ’22. In total, the Friars have six pitchers in their rotation, which Coach Karwoski believes can give them an advantage over some of their competition. “Defensively we have six pitchers on staff, which is really unique this year, so we can be creative and strategic with our pitching rotations,” she said. “We want to be focused on keeping our opposition’s score under two runs a game.”
Jessica Tomoso ’22 and Skie Villani ’22 hold the highest batting averages out of all returning players from last season. The offense should also be helped by University of Virginia transfer Madi Traver ’22. A main point of emphasis this season for the Friars will be executing with runners in scoring position, and these three players will look to lead by example.
PC softball opens their season on March 5 with a double-header against Boston University and another double-header against the Terriers on March 7. The Friars have been able to complete a successful run of practices leading up to the game, a tough thing to do on a campus mid-pandemic. Nevertheless, Karwoski is pleased with how the build-up to the season has been: “Right now we’ve been successful—we’ve had consecutive days of practice outside or in the gym where we haven’t had any pauses or shutdowns because of any outbreaks…we are just going to have to evaluate each day and what success looks like in the moment.”
Usually, the first half of the Friars’ season is filled with out-of-conference matchups and warm-weather tournaments in places like Texas, California, and Florida. This season will be much different, as the upcoming games against BU are the team’s only non-conference series. “It’s definitely going to be a challenge, and we’re not looking at it necessarily as a disadvantage, but it is a change,” said Karwoski. “A lot of the time we play a third of our season before we see conference games and this year, we’re going to play four games, weather pending…we’re going to have to be able to adapt and take advantage of each inning as they unfold next weekend.”
The solid run of successful practices will hopefully make up for the lack of non-conference games. “We’re trying to simulate as much competition as we can in practice to make up for those lost games,” admitted Karwoski. “But it’s up to us to ultimately be physically and mentally prepared regardless of whether we have the quantity of games as we did in years past.”
Qualifying and succeeding in the Big East tournament are always the program’s biggest goals, and the Friars will look to get off to a hot start as they will dive quickly into conference play this season. Only the top four teams in the conference make the Big East tournament, and this year, each team, from the top to the bottom of the conference, will have a chance to make a run in an unusual season.
The Friars will open Big East play on the weekend of March 13 against Creighton University at home, and then will travel to Chicago, IL to face the 2019 Big East Champion, DePaul University. The Blue Demons knocked the Friars out in the semifinals of the Big East tournament in their last matchup, and PC would love to get revenge against the top-ranked team in the Big East Preseason Coaches’ Poll.
No matter what happens, Karwoski and the Friars are just relieved to almost be back in season again. And with a talented group of veteran players, PC is ready to make some noise.