The Islanders softball team is looking to improve on their 12-36 record from the 2016-2017 season after numerous additions to the roster and improved depth across the board.
Head coach Blake Miller is in his second year at the helm for the Islanders and said the team has taken important steps to define its identity and culture in recent years.
“This year, it’s finally starting to move along to where we want to go,” Miller said. “We started that process last year. Now it’s added on to that. It’s just bringing that culture where you refuse to lose.”
Miller and staff will be debuting a more than a dozen true freshmen and transfer players this season. That influx of new talent has helped make for a more competitive atmosphere for the team.
“In the circle, we’re way deeper, catching-wise, we’re strong and our defense is a lot more versatile,” Miller said. “We’re basically two-deep everywhere we’re at now.”
Miller said this depth could prove beneficial during the ups and downs of a long season.
“Having that kind of depth will make it a lot easier to rotate lineups and move people in,” Miller said. “If they’re in a little slump, it’s not a big deal.”
For returning players such as sophomore infielder Lacey Boyd, the competition has pushed her.
“There isn’t really a hierarchy of who’s better,” Boyd said. “Everyone has to work hard to prove themselves and find their spot on the team.”
Miller echoed this sentiment on the team’s improved depth and competitiveness.
“Last year, there wasn’t that many people behind, but now there’s actually a lot of people vying for those starting positions,” Miller said. “It’s really pushed her to pick up her game.”
This season the Islanders will need to fill the vacancy of All-Southland pitcher Liz Carter, who graduated in 2017. Miller said the team won’t need to rely on an individual pitcher as heavily with the improvements they’ve seen on the mound: both from returning pitcher Kandace Johnson and new additions junior college transfer Ashley Smith and freshman Alexis Tovar.
“As much as Liz [Carter] was a very good pitcher, we have a whole staff on the mound,” Miller said. “We’re a lot deeper and it’ll be more interesting.”
Prior to her graduation, Carter was optimistic about the team’s direction going forward.
“The freshmen [now sophomores] are doing amazing,” Carter said. “They really have an opportunity to impact the team and they’re really stepping up.”
Above all else, Miller and his staff want to see players new to the program play tenaciously out of the gate, as opposed to deferring to those who have been through the program already.
“I want those freshmen to go out there and mess up. I want those junior college transfers to mess up. That’s our growth,” Miller said. “The biggest thing I’m looking for is aggressive mistakes.”
Miller said the team is ready to get the season underway.
“The team is very strong together right now,” Miller said. “You can say whatever you want during practice, but it really changes when those lights turn on and you lace up for the first time.”
Islanders softball kicks off their season Feb. 9 at the University of Texas-San Antonio Invitational. Fans can come out to support the team at their home games at Chapman Field throughout the spring semester.