Photo courtesy of Maryland Athletics

With a young team, Maryland Softball looking to improve its focus

With the start of a new season, there is always an adjustment period. Getting used to new teammates, new coaches — or even a new school — takes time. The Maryland softball team is no different.

Twenty-four games into the 2018 season, finding that unity is still a work in progress. The Terps have progressed to a 7-17 record.

“The one thing about the process of a young team is you can’t cheat it,” head coach Julie Wright said about the team learning to play together. “No matter how you want to as a coach, no matter how much you want to speed it up.”

This year’s roster features nine new players — six freshmen and three transfers. Infielders Sammie Stefan, Hannah Eslick and Taylor Wilson join outfielders JoJo McRae and Shelby Younkin and pitcher Ryan Denhart in College Park for their first seasons.

Junior infielders Bailey Boyd and Mikayla Werahiko, and junior pitcher Sydney Golden join the Terps after two years with other schools.

“We’re really just trying to bring up our energy,” said sophomore infielder Brigette Nordberg. “We’re working on trusting each other on and off the field and really working together as a cohesive unit.”

In addition to having several newcomers, the roster’s youth brings another challenge to the season. Eleven of 18 players are freshmen or sophomores.

“It’s been interesting. At any given time we’re playing seven to eight freshman [and] sophomores [in a game], or eight to nine new people,” Wright said. “So they’re really trying to learn each other, still at times trying to figure that out.”

Wright highlights better hitting with runners in scoring position as a skill that the team is targeting. They have scored five runs or more in a game only three times and have left 137 runners on base.

“We’ve hit early on, but we’ve got to finish,” Wright said. “We are a little bit inexperienced and in that moment we’re maybe making it a little bit bigger than it actually is. I think the more reps that we have in those moments, the better we’re going to be. Again, [it’s about] the growth of the young hitters [and] understanding how to keep pressure on.”

Improving defense is also a specific goal, Wright said. The team has committed 41 errors in 24 games, including 13 in five games at the Maryland Invitational in College Park last weekend. The Terps are a staggering 1-10 in games in which they committed two or more errors.

“I am a firm believer that defense doesn’t win games. Defense loses softball games,” Wright said. “[The defensive struggles are] part of being young and part of that learning curve.”

Some of the veterans have taken leadership roles within the team and have helped mentor younger players. Senior infielder Skylynne Ellazar, who is serving as the captain in her fourth season, said she has embraced the role.

“If I’m calm, then I know they’re calm,” she said. “Just telling them that mistakes are going to happen and that you’ve just got to shake it off and keep playing.”

Wright said she is encouraged by the progress the players have made so far and expects the team’s record to improve heading into Big Ten play at the end of March.

“I keep talking to them, let’s get a little bit better every day and stop taking so many steps backwards and really work on going forward,” she said.