NEW PROVIDENCE, NJ - Preparations for the 2017 season didn’t go as expected for the New Providence Pioneers softball team, and none of that had to do with the girls themselves.

March is the time when most softball teams hit the field to amp up preparations for the approaching season. Unfortunately for the Pioneers, the weather took a few unexpected turns for the worse.

Because of the weather, the Pioneers weren’t able to train outside as much as they would in seasons past. Despite the unfortunate circumstances, head coach Jill Fischman remains optimistic about the upcoming season.

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“Due to Mother Nature, we haven’t been outside as much so finally being able to go outside is going to be fun,” Fischman said. “But I’m very excited about the upcoming season. We have a really good core of upperclassmen returning, and all of them, including the underclassmen, are good kids.”

“It’s nice when you have players that want to work hard and that all get along. It has been enjoyable going to practice and working with these kids.”

The Pioneers enter this season with a “clean slate” mindset after a rough 2016 season. Not much went the team’s way. After losing top pitcher Amanda Mauer, who will not play this season, early on to a back injury, things went downhill.

The pitching staff, especially, took a major hit as the Pioneers were forced to take more of a committee-approach, which was an approach Fischman would rather stay away from.

The pitching staff is expected to be in much better shape this season and will be led by a pair of seniors in Michelle Barrett and Ally Wagner.

The two will be joined by freshman Megan Mohan, who is the younger sister of the recently-graduated Elizabeth Mohan.

Fischman said it was a joy coaching Elizabeth during her time with the program and is thrilled at the opportunity to coach her younger sister.

“Megan is a very hard worker, like everyone else on our team, and is always trying to improve,” Fischman said. “We can’t wait to see what the future holds for her.”

Barrett and Wagner will also be a part of an outfield rotation that will include seniors Micayla Bulger and Samantha Nau and juniors Lillie Matsikoudis and Alexa Graham.

Sophomore Jelisa Negron and freshmen Brooke Arnold, Kianna Barbarisi, Miranda Barbarisi, Emma Giedraitis, and Hannah Giedraitis will also be a part of the outfield rotation.

“We have a lot of freshmen that will be depended on to contribute,” Fischman said. “We are very young with almost 50% of the team being freshmen and/or rookies. So each experience will be a teachable moment to improve for the next experience.”

“There’s going to be a balancing act this season in trying to help the underclassmen become more educated while at the same time helping the returning core stay up-to-par.”

The infield lineup will consist of junior Kelly Doyle (shortstop), junior Katie Harris (first base), sophomore Sarah Kowalewski (third base), and Graham, who will also play second base.

Sophomore Kayla McManus will be the team’s catcher.

Nau, Bulger, Barrett, and Wagner will serve as the team’s captains this season. Fischman raved about the leadership the four have shown.

“All four of them have been on the upswing and have come full circle,” Fischman said. “As freshmen, they played behind eight seniors but now they’re the seniors that everyone else is looking up to.”

“All four of them have grown tremendously as individuals and as players the past four years and have become wonderful young ladies.”

Fischman believes her team will keep the same mentality they’ve displayed in preseason workouts all through the regular season and possibly into the postseason.

“We have a great group of girls this year who continue to work hard day in and day out,” Fischman said. “We are looking forward to being competitive and getting better each time we step on the field.”