With the sounds of power-saws and hammers looming from the observation deck at JoAnne Graf Field, Florida State softball held its first practice of the new year on Friday.
After a disappointing end to a season that held championship aspirations, softball coach Lonni Alameda is confident that new digs and new faces will deliver a season of excitement and redemption.
“It’s a lot of new faces for us, not only on the field but behind the scenes,” Alameda said. “We are growing a lot of people in the culture of Florida State softball along with skillsets. In the past couple of years, we’ve had a lot of experienced players and position experience. Now it’s new for everyone. There is an excitement, a giddiness and the opportunity for growth – we are going to get better.”
FSU has an influx of freshmen who are “very mature” and learning quickly, said senior Cassidy Davis.
“The upperclassmen have done a good job at mentoring them and showing them the standards,” Davis said. “I think they are developing well and I think we’ll be fine.”
The ’Noles have had a roster stacked with experience over the last few seasons, but are now transitioning into a period of development that every program experiences. Though with Florida State, six straight ACC championships and seven straight super regional appearances would not give you the impression that there was ever a time in which the team was in a young, developing state.
The Seminoles lost a number of notable names during the offseason, including seniors Carsyn Gordon and Zoe Casas. In addition, sophomore Makinzy Herzog decided to transfer to Texas A&M to be closer to home.
Without a doubt the biggest loss for Florida State was that of senior All-American left-hander Meghan King, of whom is widely considered to be a generational talent and one of the best to ever pitch in the circle.
When asked how you fill the shoes of a player like King, Alameda said, “Meghan was a tremendous player for us in the circle, but this bullpen works as a family. Meghan’s influence has trickled down to our pitchers that are currently here. Meghan comes back a lot (as does Jessica Burroughs) and they get to share experiences and stories about the tradition and honor to have the ball every pitch in the circle for your team.”
The Seminoles do have a capable returning class to lead the way for the newcomers. Anna Shelnutt, Dani Morgan, Leslie Farris and Sydney Sherrill have stepped nicely into leadership roles for the young team.
“When I first came to Florida State, we were a young team and I was that freshman,” Sherrill said. “It’s really cool how the roles change and now I’m helping freshmen in the way I was helped. Nerves for me was a big thing starting as a freshman and playing against such high competition. We are going to have a lot of freshman starters this year … helping them through it and making the game not bigger than it is, is how I’m going to help them.”
The ’Noles are not going to get any easy breaks during this transitioning period. They open the season on Feb. 7 against North Carolina and Alabama, the latter of which finished above the Seminoles in the polls at the end of last season. They will play the Crimson Tide twice before heading to the Clearwater Invitational on Feb. 14, in which the ’Noles will play powerhouses like Washington, Northwestern and the reigning champion UCLA Bruins.
“We set it up that way,” Alameda chuckled. “To be the best you need to play the best. In big moments you need to be in uncomfortable situations. If we can rattle our cage a ton and continue to keep our head above water, we are going to grow as a program. So we’ve set it up that way – every year we have a tough schedule. The ACC continues to get stronger (as well), everyone is upping their game so we are getting challenged the whole year.”
There is a different tone amongst team 37, one that can be described as excitement in comparison to the pressure last year’s team felt.
“Last year was disappointing,” Sherrill said. “This year we’ve taken the focus away from trying to get back and win another championship. We are just trying to take it one game at a time this year. If we play the game to the best of our ability and focus on one pitch at a time, we know we’ll end up where we need to be.”