CHATHAM, NJ - After a few tumultuous years, the Chatham High softball team has finally found some stability.
The Lady Cougars finished their 2016 campaign with a 20-6 record. Coach Brian Figueiredo believes that they have the chance to further improve on that success this season.
“I think the key to last year’s success was stability in the program,” Figueiredo said. “The girls had been through an awful lot the previous three years with coaching changes, injuries, and so on.”
Entering his second year in the program, Figueiredo hopes that the team can put all of those distractions behind them.
“I got the sense very early that they were looking for all those distractions to be put in the rearview mirror, and just focus on softball,” Figueiredo said. “Once we gained each other’s trust, the talent of the program took center stage, and the players could just focus on softball.”
Most of the varsity lineup will return for the 2017 campaign. Seven players will be entering their senior year at Chatham, including pitcher Melissa Landry, catcher Kelly Krincek, outfielders Amelia Hoffman, Sarah Stubeck and Bonnie Kennedy, and infielders Morgan Pellegrin and Hallie Pellegrin.
Landry, who has committed to play at Bentley next year, is backed up by sophomore pitcher Anna Lengner, who also pitched for the varsity last season. Lengner also plays the outfield.
Kennedy, returning to center field for the season after a year at second base, will be the leadoff hitter ahead of junior shortstop Camryn Davies. Kennedy has committed to play at American International next year.
“Kennedy has tremendous speed at the top, and Davies is the perfect two hitter,” Figueiredo said. “Those two will set the tone for any offensive success we’ll have this season."
A trio of sophomores are looking to make an impact on the varsity squad as well. Infielders Sarah McCabe and Lauren Sullivan and catcher Kaitlin Pinaire are expected to contribute this season. Figueiredo believes that McCabe has the chance to be the team’s regular Designated Player, while Sullivan and Pinaire will fill in at catcher and second base.
Making her return to the softball field this season is senior second baseman Morgan Tobin. Tobin had missed the previous two seasons after multiple ACL injuries, but she has fought back and earned a starting spot in the infield.
“Tobin is an inspiration to all of us,” the coach said. “To battle back from two knee injuries in back-to-back year is the true definition of perseverance.”
Figueiredo believes that the key strength of this Chatham squad will be team chemistry.
“This is the most team-oriented group of players I’ve ever coached,” he said. “They all want to win, but more importantly, they all pull for each other to do well.”
While the team seems to be in good shape, there is certainly room for improvement. Figueiredo believes that above all else, the Lady Cougars must cut down on strikeouts in 2017.
“I thought we struck out too much last season,” he said. "We always talk about making teams make plays to beat us, and not giving other teams free outs.”
With an experienced lineup and good team chemistry, the Lady Cougars are ready to further improve on last year’s success, which included a trip to the Morris County Tournament final.
Chatham opens the season, 10 a.m. Saturday, April 1 when it plays host to Hunterdon Central.