The softball team stitched together five consecutive games without a loss at the beginning of last season before fading away, missing the playoffs. With 16 players new to the program, the Dons are looking to finish strong.
“The team is fun, always smiling, and a tight-knit group,” said first baseman Asia Alvarez.
The team has a deep bench. Strengths for the Dons include hitting, solid defense, and roster flexibility, with players capable of playing multiple positions.
“There is no drop off in ability from starters to replacements,” said outfielder Nicole Baltierra.
Despite fielding a young team, the Dons will rely on sophomores Shelly Tait, pitcher, and Sarah Steinbeck, shortstop. Tait is key to the team’s success. She is leading or tied for the lead in two offensive categories and five pitching categories. Steinbeck leads the team in stolen bases and defensive assists.
The Dons are 5-2, similar to their 4-2-1 start last season.
However, playing in the Orange Empire Conference poses a few challenges. Four teams posted a winning percentage over .600 last year, while the Dons’ winning percentage was only .429.
But the Dons are not worried.
“Compared to last season, the team is more talented and has an established work ethic,” said Co-Head Coach Jessica Rapoza.
This year, the Dons are an offensive juggernaut, batting over .400 with 20 extra base hits, scoring 48 runs, and stealing 25 bases in 27 attempts.
Pitching for the Dons has been split between four players, combining for a 3.93 earned run average. Tait and Monica Sepulveda have thrown 26.2 out of 36.2 innings pitched.
Rapoza carries 19 players on her roster and welcomes competitions in practice for starting spots. The starting lineup can change based on who is working the hardest.
“Practices are in depth, and you’re always on your feet,” Alvarez said. “Something new is learned everyday,” she said of their workouts.
The team shows chemistry, and displays a positive energy. Rapoza’s coaching philosophy is centered on attitude and effort, expressing a “team over self” mentality.
“If we play consistent without beating ourselves, we will compete in the conference,” Rapoza said.