After a season in which the Ithaca College softball team fell short in the Liberty League tournament, the team is looking toward the leadership of its seniors to bring the Bombers its first conference championship since 2019.
One change the team has had to adjust to coming into the new season is the addition of a new head coach, as former head coach Hannah Quintana ’07 stepped down from her position in July 2022. In her place, former assistant coach Kelly Robichaud ’16 was appointed as the interim head coach.
Since Robichaud’s appointment in July, senior infielder Allison Dell’Orto said Robichaud’s presence has been something the team has enjoyed.
“It’s been really exciting,” Dell’Orto said. “It’s definitely been eye-opening for a lot of us. It gives us a lot of new opportunities to develop our skills to a whole new level. I think everyone is over-excited for what’s to come. She’s a great role model to us, she really pushes us to be our best and we’re all really excited.”
Dell’Orto enters her senior season after a slight downturn in production following two strong seasons to start her career. She hit .293 last spring while walking a career-best 19 times. She reached base safely 27 times and stole 15 bases during the season, leading the team in the stat, while driving in 15 runners with her bat.
As for Robichaud, she said her focus right now is to acclimate the first-year students to the team, a group that Robichaud said she is excited to have join the South Hill squad while still finding where they fit best.
“We have two really solid catchers that have come in [with] this first-year class,” Robichaud said. “We have a dynamic outfield coming in, and we’re still finding positions for people in the field. We only lost four from our graduating class last year, so we have a good, solid infield coming back.”
The team has had success with students making an impact in their first years during recent seasons. Now a sophomore, pitcher Anna Cornell said her offseason was spent getting her arm ready for the stress of the softball season.
“I was working on some arm care, trying to stay healthier with my arm,”
Cornell said. “It’s a long season and we play doubleheaders almost every weekend this season if you look ahead at our schedule. So I’m just looking at the command of my pitches, hitting my spots overall and then I’m working on one more pitch, that’s been something I’ve been trying to do.”
Cornell was a big contributer in her rookie season, where she pitched 87.2 innings and struck out 118 of the 362 batters she faced. Cornell pitched to an ERA of exactly 2.00 while holding hitters to a combined average against of .224, finishing the season with five shutouts and nine complete games to her name in the 16 games she started.
As for the team’s goals, Robichaud said she wants the team to compete for a Liberty League Championship while also having fun on the field. As for leadership, Robichaud said she is looking toward the team’s seniors to lead them this season, including Dell’Orto.
Dell’Orto said she is ready to step into her new leadership role, especially after seeing her role change as much as it has from her first year with the team.
“It’s changed a lot and went from having to learn a lot from mistakes to now being a leader and having a bunch of people who look up to you,” Dell’Orto said. “It’s definitely something that could be a little more difficult, but I also really enjoy proving myself to my teammates. Being able to lead them and guide them and give them advice and help whenever they need it, that’s something that’s really special
During the offseason, the team looked to stay ready for competition despite the looming questions about the search for a full-time head coach. Dell’Orto said that the team spent a lot of time together, trying to get closer as a team and work to get the best out of every player.
“We worked really hard [during the offseason],” Dell’Orto said. “We’ve been staying on top of our lifts; we’ve been lifting really well. We’ve been practicing with each other and building that camaraderie on the field; it’s something that’s been a big focus of this season, creating that bond on and off the field. We really worked hard and pushed each other to our limits.”
Another key piece for the Bombers throughout the fall and winter heading into the season has been the team’s energy. Robichaud said the team is fueled by competition and mentally prepared to take on the Liberty League.
“The energy is great,” Robichaud said. “We’re all excited to move toward the same direction and have the same goal in mind to win a championship. We love to compete, we always have, and we’re continuing to have that competitive mindset, but most importantly, we’re going out there and we’re having a good time. You’ll see a lot of laughs and high-fives and dance parties at practice because that’s just what we do. We work hard, and we have fun doing it.”
However, winning a conference championship will be easier said than done for the South Hill squad. Cornell said the team has some tough conference opponents in its path if it wants to win the title, along with having to play some strong competition outside of the Liberty League.
“I think [Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute] is going to be a pretty big game,” Cornell said. “That was our last game of the season last year, so we are really looking to attack them head-on. Other than that, I would say Rochester is going to be a pretty good game and we’re looking forward to playing Cortland this season. Our game last year got rained out against them, so it’s a big one this year.”
Coming into the season as the head coach for the time being, Robichaud is looking forward to working with the staff around her to give everyone on the team the best season they can.
“The foundation for this team is really solid,” Robichaud said. “I’m really excited with the support staff that I have around me. I have a wonderful assistant coach. We have student assistants working with us, we have wonderful athletic training staff. I know as a group that will be able to move forward together and provide a really fun season for everyone.”
The Bombers open their season at 9 a.m. March 12 when they take on The College of New Jersey in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina as part of a 10-game slate during spring break.