The 2017 Iona College softball season was a special year for head coach Melissa Inouye. She was named Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference Coach of the Year, as she helped the Gaels to a 27-24 record and a first place finish in the regular season standings.
Inouye also witnessed the departure of four seniors, which made up her first recruiting class.
“It was my first recruiting class as a head coach here,” Inouye said. “That meant a lot to me with those four seniors. They played a lot during their careers and left a legacy as far as championship experience.”
Iona was the best fielding team in the conference, and ranked second in opponents’ batting average. The Gaels’ success on the field has led to even higher expectations this season.
“Our hope is to past that down and raise the bar,” Inouye said. “We have some expectations and we want to uphold that culture of success.”
The Gaels have prepared all fall and winter for the upcoming season, which starts on Feb. 16. Inouye described the preseason workouts as a grueling process in which the team spent countless hours both lifting and on the field, while managing around the harsh winter weather.
“The fall is a grueling period for the girls,” Inouye said. “It’s tough period because you go from doing a lot of team stuff until mid-October and there is a lot of individual work after that. It can be hard because they want to play already, but we are battling the weather and facility constraints.”
This year’s team has four freshmen, who brings plenty of speed and pitching to the roster.
“They are definitely a quiet and steady group,” Inouye said. “There is a lot more speed in the freshman class especially in Kayla Hujber and Maggie Foley, as well as Natalia Meray.”
Freshman Samantha Bender is a player Inouye believes can play an important role to the pitching staff and can earn a lot innings.
“We look for Samantha Bender to take some innings in the spring,” Inouye said. “She is probably our hardest thrower, but a little wild at times. She brings a different dynamic to our pitching staff.”
Bender will be joining a Gaels pitching staff that features sophomore Marnie Skinner, junior Alana Evans and senior Jessica Harkness. Evans was named 2017 MAAC Pitcher of the Year after she posted a 2.75 ERA and threw her first career no-hitter against Monmouth.
“Alana has always had the talent coming in as a freshman,” Inouye said. “We knew she had talent, but we were quite stacked at pitcher so she didn’t pitch as much freshman year. Sophomore year, she really put in a lot of work especially changes to her mental game and had a phenomenal year.”
Inouye has high hopes for Evans to translate the same success this season or maybe even top it.
“We expect the same thing from her this year,” Inouye said. “She is quite the competitor and we are glad we have her on our team compare to facing her.”
Iona’s season will start at the Cougar Classic in Charleston, South Carolina. The Gaels will face schools such as DePaul, Northern Illinois, Longwood and the College of Charleston from Feb. 16-18.
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