Softball team eyes first SLIAC tournament title since 2009


In 2005, Chris Eaton heard an idea from one of his East Central College assistant coaches that he decided to try out. Eaton gave all the players on his team a softball and permanent markers, and he told them to write their individual and team goals on the balls.

Webster University sophomore infielder Taylor Gibbs (left) and senior pitcher Trisha Thompson (right) pose with their “goal balls” at the St. Louis Sports Center before a practice on Tuesday, March 5. Each player on the softball team wrote down their season goals on a softball at the beginning of the season. The players are instructed to keep them in their gloves to help remind them of their goals. PHOTO BY MEGAN FAVIGNANO.

Eaton then had each player share a couple of her goals with the rest of the team. The players were instructed to keep their “goal balls” in their gloves so they would be reminded of their objectives before every game and practice.

In 2010, his second year as coach of the Webster University softball team, Eaton elected to bring the goal balls idea back. Now in his fifth year as Webster’s coach, Eaton has kept this preseason tradition alive. At the end of practice on Tuesday, Feb. 26, the Gorloks scribbled their goals for the 2013 season. Two days later, the players revealed what they wrote on their goal balls.

“What I hope they put on there is conference championships and NCAA tournaments and hopefully making some noise in the NCAA tournament,” Eaton said. “Those are some of the things we kind of preach from the beginning at practice. … All of them had ‘conference championship’ (on their goal balls).”

Sophomore first baseman Taylor Gibbs, who last season led the Gorloks in slugging percentage (.608) and home runs (4), and was second on the team with a .351 average, would like to see Webster win the conference tournament and advance to Regionals. But beyond that, she wants everyone on the team to “respect the game,” which she noted on her goal ball.

“I think sometimes people forget why they’re playing and what the sport is really about, because we get so involved in the statistics and who’s doing what all the time,” Gibbs said. “And sometimes, people just forget — whenever they started when they were a little kid — how much they loved (softball).”

Senior pitcher Trisha Thompson, who went 12-10 last season with a 3.95 ERA and a conference-best 113 strikeouts, said the team’s No. 1 goal this year is to win the St. Louis Intercollegiate Athletic Conference tournament. Thompson said one of the goals she wrote on her softball was to throw 65 percent of her pitches in the strike zone.

“Coach tells us to keep (the goal ball) in our glove. Our glove is like our fingertips — we have to have that with us all the time,” Thompson said. “We grab our gloves and the ball is in there, so we know, ‘Hey, my goal is that I’m going to be aggressive, so I need to remember I’m going to be aggressive today or this game or this practice.’”

Eaton said Thompson will start about half of the Gorloks’ games this year, which is what she did last season. Eaton said Ashley Meagher, the 2011 SLIAC Pitcher of the Year, joined the Air Force and won’t be pitching for Webster this season. Meagher went 7-12 with a 5.28 ERA last season, her third with the Gorloks.

To replace Meagher’s 20 starts in 2012, Eaton said the two other pitchers on Webster’s roster, junior Samantha Powers and freshman Rachel Franck, will split games depending on who is pitching well.

In addition to Meagher, Webster also lost non-seniors Danielle LaVenture, Kristie Konersmann and Kristin Rolla. Eaton said all three players are still enrolled in school, but they decided to do other things in lieu of softball.

In 2012, LaVenture, an All-Conference second-team selection, hit .346, drove in 20 RBIs (second-best in the SLIAC) and stole 9 bases (tied for third-best in the SLIAC). Konersmann, an All-Conference honorable mention, hit .296 with a SLIAC-high 22 RBIs and a team-high 9 doubles. Rolla batted .273 with 18 runs scored and 16 RBIs.

Despite these losses, Eaton believes he has enough returning and incoming talent to compete for a SLIAC championship. Senior infielder Jessica Arcangel batted .278 with 13 RBIs and 12 runs scored last season. Senior catcher Aly Watson hit .242 with 10 RBIs, while senior catcher Kaytlin Burczak shared time behind the plate and hit .189.

Eaton said a host of first-year players will receive playing time right away, including junior center fielder Molly Muntz, junior shortstop Kelley Bridgmon and freshman left fielder Erin McGinnis. Eaton said freshman Leah Sutton, who also plays for the Webster volleyball team, and junior Courtney Gass will share time at second base.

“We have a lot of options this year. I think there’s going to be a lot of different people who contribute, especially compared to last year,” Eaton said. “I was talking with the coaches — our starting nine for the first game (of the 2013 season) was a totally different nine than the last game of last year. We have a lot of new players that are going to be playing and stepping up. It’s going to be interesting to see how they do.”

The Gorloks began their 2013 campaign in Jackson, Miss. Webster split a doubleheader on Saturday, March 2 and lost both games of a doubleheader on Sunday, March 3 to open the regular season 1-3.

Webster fell 5-3 to Millsaps College (Miss.) in its first game of the season before crushing Centenary College (La.) 13-2 in Game 2. The next day, the Gorloks dropped a 5-4 decision to Centenary before losing 11-4 to Millsaps.

Next up for Webster is a trip to Kissimmee, Fla., to play eight games during spring break. The Gorloks then play eight home games at Blackburn Park before opening SLIAC play at Westminster College on March 27.

SLIAC coaches picked Webster to finish third in the conference’s preseason poll, as Fontbonne University and Spalding University (Ky.) were selected to finish first and second, respectively. The Gorloks, who went 19-22 overall and 11-4 in the SLIAC last season, fell to Fontbonne in the 2012 SLIAC tournament championship — their third straight season-ending loss to the Griffins.

Thompson said upending Fontbonne is one of Webster’s primary goals for the season.

“A lot of the girls on their goal balls have ‘Beat Fontbonne,’” Thompson said. “Sometimes it’s something that we struggle with, but we should all know that it’s not only Fontbonne. We need to look at every game like we’re playing Fontbonne so that when we do play Fontbonne, we’re prepared.”

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