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Slugging Their Way to Success

Slugging Their Way to SuccessThe 34-0 Jumbo softball team is hitting whatever is thrown in their path as they march toward the postseason.

Medford/Somerville, Mass. [04.27.09] "Right Now." That is the motto that has guided the Jumbo softball team through a record-breaking season, and it's the mentality they will take into postseason play. With eight seniors leading the way and hungry for playoff glory, the team has history in its sights.

"We didn't just say when the season started that we wanted to win games," says sophomore pitcher Izzie Santone, 2008 NESCAC Rookie of the Year who received the first Pitcher of the Week honor of this season. "We said right from the very start, we want to be the best that we've ever been."

With a record of 34-0 as of Apr. 25 and a series of records that have been shattered over the course of the season, that goal is approaching reality.



The Jumbos have been building to this point with a successful string of seasons, including two consecutive 30-win seasons and back-to-back conference titles. A big part of this year's success, says two-time Coach of the Year Cheryl Milligan, is losing just two players to graduation last year and the return of eight seniors.

"They want it more and I think have all worked really hard to improve their game," she says. "The undefeated record is a lot less important than us continuing to do what we need to do to get where we want to go."

 

It's already been a stellar year for the Jumbos, with several records falling by the wayside. Senior outfielder Laura Chapman broke the stolen base record of 60 held by 1997 graduate Kara Murphy, tallying 64 to date. Murphy's career-hits record of 175 was also broken by senior third baseman Samantha Kuhles on Apr. 2, and her runs-scored record was broken by Kuhles on April 18th.Senior infielder Danielle Lopez broke the career RBI record of 123 held by 2003 graduate Lis Drake, and also now holds the all-time record for doubles as well as total bases.

When the Jumbos faced opponents in California during spring break-teams that had been playing outside a lot longer than Tufts back in snow-covered Medford-and were able to hold their own, converting late-inning ties and extra-inning matchups into wins, they knew it was going to be a special season.

"Winning them all was a really big 'we can do anything we want to do this year' kind of moment for us," says Milligan.

"We were really, really pumped," says senior pitcher Lauren Gelmetti, who won NESCAC Pitcher of the Week honors twice this season. She credits Milligan with having faith to leave her in the game during some of those tight matchups in California when she was struggling, helping pave the way for the team's success and confidence today.

"Especially when there's eight of you [seniors] and it's your last year, you just want to make the most of it."

Recipe for Success

mill250Milligan (left), a double Jumbo, has been a part of the program since arriving on campus in the early 1990s and was named head coach in 2003. She cites improved pitching, consistently powerful hitting and speed on the basepaths as the recipe for her team's success. That said, Milligan believes that her Jumbos are confident, but not cocky.

"I think we know that if we play our game and don't get rattled and do what we're supposed to do that we are capable of beating anybody," she explains. "Forgetting how to lose goes pretty far towards making a very competent team, as does having eight seniors, all of whom are incredibly great leaders."

"We don't take our success and make it as our superiority over other people, we take it as building toward our goals," says Santone (below right). "That's what makes us not cocky."

Players say this year's team enjoys a tight camaraderie, particularly among the eight seniors. ("If you saw us together, it's quite a comedy show," notes Gelmetti.) This bond is cited as another factor in the team's success.

santone250 "I'm excited for the pride and confidence they have in each other every time they take the field. That's the biggest difference for us this year as opposed to past years," says Milligan. "I don't see us ever doubting what the outcome of the game is going to be."

While the Jumbos are confident in their accomplishments, they still sometimes find their success a bit stunning.

"It's been a very surreal experience," says Gelmetti. "My friends ask how we're doing and I say, 'Great,' and they ask, 'What's your record?' I say 32-0 and they go 'Oh my God!' and I go 'Wow, oh my God this is unreal!'"

In the young program's 24-year history, the team has won the NESCAC title seven times and made it to the NCAA tournament ten times. The Jumbos last advanced to the College World Series in 2000, but the team's eye is on that prize again this season. The tournament will be held May 15-19 in Montclair, N.J., overlapping with Tufts' commencement exercises.

"Whatever we do from here, it certainly will be a hallmark year in terms of what we've achieved and all the records that have fallen, but I don't think any of us will be very happy with that if it doesn't go as far as we would like it to," says Milligan. "We're just trying to stay focused and not worry about how many wins are behind us but worry about the one that's coming up next."

For Gelmetti, who has gritted it out on the field with her seven fellow seniors for the past four years, victory at the College World Series would be a fitting graduation ceremony.

"I'm starting to realize this is a very big possibility," Gelmetti says. "And that's a very exciting thought."

NESCAC tournament play begins May 1 at Tufts against an opponent to be determined.

Story by Georgiana Cohen, Office of Web Communications. Photos by Laurence Kelly for University Photography.

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