North Central Softball stars lead year of growth

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North Central Softball uses recent success as a launching pad for growth

Last year was a very successful one for North Central Softball, taking second place in the CCIW Tournament and receiving an NCAA Tournament bid for the first time since 2015, reaching the regional championship game. The offseason saw several significant players graduate, and the team worked to offset that by maintaining last year’s momentum and trusting in a younger group of leaders to step into bigger roles.

“I think we still had a lot of key returners,” said head coach Venus Taylor of this season’s roster. “So, you know, we knew that those key returners knew how to get it done and they had been a part of a successful program and a successful season. So we hope through their leadership that they can, you know, help the younger players. And we have a huge freshman class that came in. So we were relying a lot on their leadership and I think they did a great job.”

“You definitely have to like take kind of baby steps with newcomers because they’re not used to how fast college softball goes,” said junior infielder Katie Del Re. “So you’ve got to talk to them, reassure them, keep on confident. So it was a lot of baby steps, but it definitely started to pay off during the end of the season, which was good to see.”

“I know at least for third base, I had to like cover a little bit more ground and stuff like that,” said junior Talia Torosian, who formed a solid left side of the infield with Del Re. “I was like, kind of helping them. Like, okay, like if it’s here, like you could throw it to 2nd, but only if it’s a hard ground ball or stuff like that. Kind of just like taking them through a little more, explaining a little more, telling them that they can do it and like giving them the confidence that they can do it, on top of just staying positive and encouraging them.”

Del Re and Torosian honored for leading by example

Del Re and Torosian were not just vocal leaders this season, and more than led by example as Del Re was named First Team All CCIW and Torosian was named Second Team. Del Re was also selected as the CCIW Defensive Player of the Year, matching her team-leading offense with great defense at shortstop.

“I didn’t have a very good season my sophomore year, and some people like to call that the sophomore slump, which just happens naturally,” said Del Re, who previously was the CCIW’s Newcomer of the Year as a freshman in 2021. “But I was able to get in the gym a lot, work at home, just kind of work on my swing and get back to my fundamentals that I kind of lost that sophomore season and it ended up working out really well for me. So I’m happy about that.”

While the individual statistics were great for the two juniors, who have now started every game for three consecutive years, much of the young team spent this season adjusting to the rigors and pace of collegiate play. But they feel that they were able to be good mentors this season, and saw a combination of patience and hard work begin to pay dividends as the year progressed.

“It’s hard because they haven’t experienced it and I’ve experienced it for three years and it’s just something new, but I feel like a lot of them can look up to me,” Del Re said of try to translate her success to the team. “I work really hard all the time, 100% effort, attitude, all good things. I think it’ll be a lot better next year. They know what to expect, they know what’s coming. And like me, having a good season is good for them to see. Like, you can do it, it can happen. And especially at the end of the year, it started happening for them, which is good. But yeah, it’s well, they’ll get there, they’ll do great.”

“It’s one of the only sports that you can’t really be that individual in,” Torosian said. “So I can go four for four at the plate, But then we could still lose the game by a slaughter rule. So I just think like by keeping that in mind and also, hits get strung together so if you’re hitting, everyone else to start hitting. And it kind of showed towards the end of the season with Wesleyan.”

An impressive end to a disappointing season for NCC Softball

While the Cardinals didn’t qualify for this year’s CCIW Tournament, they did end their schedule by handing Illinois Wesleyan their only conference loss of the season. It was a game that showed the full potential of this young team, and was a positive punctuation on a year of growth that they’ll hope to pick up from next campaign.

“With a huge win against Illinois Wesleyan at the end, you know, I think that really showcases the talent that we do have going into next year,” said Taylor of the 9-4 victory. “And it should help them see that they have the potential to beat anybody that they want in our conference.”

“I know in the last game it was just kind of like, we have nothing to lose at this point,” said Del Re. “Mostly like, let’s just have fun this game. The energy was up the whole time and people were just having fun. There’s no pressure on anyone and that made like a huge difference.”

“We went into that game like, why not us, right? Why not us?’ continued Taylor. “Why are you not capable of beating Illinois Wesleyan or knocking off the number one team? And everybody wants an upset, right? Everybody loves to see that. And we did just that. So I was really super proud of them for that. The hard part, as a coach, sitting back, as you’re saying to yourself, is why did we carry all that pressure with us, you know, during the regular season and didn’t have it so much at the end? Right? And so that’s where we got to get to is how do we play loose? How do we play confident?

“I hope that they take like that last game and carry it over into next season,” Del Re said of her now less-inexperienced teammates. “Almost everyone was hitting that last game. It was so much fun to play and not be stressed that we’re in a one run game or stressed that we have to win a conference title. Everyone was playing, having fun, not worrying about winning, losing, stats, average, things like that. It was just fun and people need to carry that over the next season and not worry about it. Play softball! Everyone knows how to play softball and when you play it, we can see what happens.”

“I think the last couple of games, even that first game against Wesleyan, we could have even won that game, so we could have swept them the one seed and that would be a really cool thing to do,” Torosian said. “But we did end the season on a high note, and I think that game just ended the season with confidence and hopefully it translates into the fall and then the next spring season as well.”

“At the end our message is clear: you can beat anybody,” Taylor said. “You know, you play to your full potential, you can beat anybody. And I really want them to know next year that this really needs to be their thought process and that they need to go out wanting to be that team to beat all year long. And really, I want to see and be champions. You know, we want to be champions. We don’t want to settle for anything less than that.”