SB : Refusing to settle: Seniors have made mark on program, aim for Women’s College World Series

first_imgLacey Kohl remembers Syracuse’s preseason goal three years ago. As a freshman in 2009, her and her team’s objective was to win a game in the Big East tournament.Compared to now, the Orange’s expectations are night and day.With two Big East tournament crowns, two NCAA appearances and an NCAA tournament win in the last three years, Syracuse has continually upped the ante. Winning an NCAA tournament game as SU did for the first time in school history last year by beating Louisiana State won’t achieve satisfaction.‘This year our goal is to be playing on May 31,’ SU head coach Leigh Ross said. ‘Playing in the College World Series. That is our goal as a team.’After achieving its mission of winning one tournament game last year, the Orange lost a sense of urgency to move forward, dropping its next two games and getting eliminated from the NCAA tournament. In 2012, though, Syracuse will make it its first priority to not let that happen again. Syracuse’s goal has surpassed what most Northeast schools enter their seasons with. With the Orange’s high expectations for its postseason potential, SU’s seniors know the bulk of the team’s success is going to fall on their shoulders.AdvertisementThis is placeholder textFor Ross and her entire team, winning one game in the tournament won’t be enough.Each of the last four years, Syracuse has raised the bar another notch. With an experienced and talented group that boasts seven valuable seniors, being one of the last eight teams standing in the country isn’t where Ross hopes her team is. It’s where she expects the Orange to be.And it’s the last chance for the group of seniors who advanced the program to where it is to reach an even greater stage.Her players echo that same lofty ambition. For Kohl, now a senior catcher, it wasn’t easy getting over the Orange’s elimination at the hands of Texas A&M and LSU. But one thing that helped her get over it is she knew had one more chance to make a deep tournament run in her final collegiate season. The seven seniors include Kohl, Jenna Caira, Lisaira Daniels, Kelly Saco, Stephanie Watts, Leah Porter and Gaby Torzilli. All besides Porter and Torzilli have been key cogs in the last two teams.In the tournament last year, Kohl said SU wasn’t intimidated, but it was still a shock to the system dealing with something it hadn’t all year.‘The atmosphere was foreign to us,’ Kohl said. ‘The game obviously was not, so I think the atmosphere kind of had an effect on the way we played.’Texas A&M head coach Jo Evans, whose team topped Syracuse 13-5 in the tournament, said it’s hard for a team like Syracuse to know what to prepare for when pushed into big-time games. Facing a hostile environment when going up against a team like the Aggies takes time to adjust to.Evans said it’s an advantage most Southeastern Conference, Pac-12 and Big 12 teams have over a Big East school like Syracuse. The Big East teams simply don’t see the same type of crowds and hype during the regular season that the softball-powerhouse conferences endure. ‘It takes some getting used to if you’ve never been put in that environment,’ said Evans, who brought her team to 10 straight tournament games. ‘Young teams can possibly be rattled by that sort of atmosphere. They’re just not used to it.’But after two straight years in the NCAA tournament, the Orange is no longer unfamiliar. From the warm-ups to the additional media attention garnered at the biggest games of the season, Ross said the only way to get ready for the other aspects off the diamond is to actually be there.The senior class has dealt with three previous years of a variety of pressure situations. It includes two Big East championship games that were decided by one run — both Syracuse wins.So the Orange is used to games with little room for error.‘We kind of know the routine,’ said Daniels, who transferred from Georgia to Syracuse before her sophomore year in 2010. ‘We kind of know what it takes to be at prime all the time.’The experience Syracuse has is an indication of how strong the team has been the past few years under the direction of Ross and the seniors on this year’s roster. Ross said this year is unquestionably her strongest squad since she’s been with Syracuse.Caira posted an impressive 1.51 ERA to go along with her 35 wins last season. Between her play for Syracuse and the Canadian National Team, she has cemented herself as one of the nation’s premier pitchers.As for the offense, Syracuse has the luxury of four players returning with a batting average above .300, with Daniels’ .351 average and team-best 67 hits leading the way.But it’s not just the numbers on paper that convinced Ross her team is a legitimate contender. She believes Syracuse has the intangibles to make a postseason run.‘The skills you’re going to have and you can find athletes that have skills, but it’s the intangibles, it’s the mindset, it’s the chemistry,’ Ross said. ‘All those things combined.’That combination has them mentioned among the top softball programs in the nation. Syracuse was one of the top teams outside the Top 25 that received votes in the Feb. 14 ESPN/USA Softball poll.It’s rare for a team from the Northeast to gain that sort of national attention. Evans said the only other team she’s knows of that usually gets that sort of hype is Michigan, a perennially ranked squad.But the added attention doesn’t equal added pressure for Syracuse players. The seniors, who have already left a mark on the program in taking it to two NCAA tournaments, are not affected by the expectations.Caira doesn’t want younger players on the team to feel like they need to win one for the seniors.Kohl said patience is the key.‘I think that’s the most pressure, staying patient with everybody else who this is completely brand new to,’ she said.Last season, Ross could sense the complacency among her players after Syracuse’s NCAA tournament win over LSU.A letdown ensued. Against other top softball schools, Syracuse’s postseason run unraveled in a downward spiral from there. It lost to Texas A&M, and was eliminated in a rematch with LSU. Syracuse was soon on a plane home.‘We knew that we had accomplished our goal. I think what we did as a team is we had the letdown,’ Ross said.This season, Kohl said the Orange can go as far as the SU seniors want to go. And all seven seniors want to reach the Women’s College World Series, she said.It all trails back to the group of seniors. They gave the program a facelift. From the first time they all practiced, Ross could tell the group had ambitions to do more.‘I think they set a tone from the moment they stepped on campus as far as the tone of wanting to outwork any other team in the country,’ Ross said, ‘and there’s a pride and a standard that they’ve set.’dgproppe@syr.edu Published on February 20, 2012 at 12:00 pm Comments Facebook Twitter Google+last_img

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