Nothing soft about it

Joe Harrington

If the Super Bowl has taught the sports world anything, it’s not how you start or how the team plays in the middle of the season or even how you play in the playoffs – it’s about winning a championship.

The Kent State softball team knows this all too well. Last season, the Flashes were 31-19 with 15 Mid-American Conference wins, which earned them the regular season title. But they didn’t win the MAC tournament, losing to Central Michigan and Ohio. Coach Karen Linder said a big reason the Flashes lost to Central Michigan was because they struggled in the hostile environment.

“What happened in the MAC tournament, that was very challenging and difficult for us, and we have talked about it as a team, in Michigan we’ve never felt so hated in our entire lives,” Linder said. “Everybody there wants to beat you – I mean everyone there wants to see you fail.”

How have they changed this? Linder said a set of team building and goal setting session have helped, but hands-on learning has also helped.

“We talked about (being hated) when our men played Akron in basketball,” Linder said. “We talked about that environment and how you deal with that environment, we talked about it the other day after the Super Bowl, because the Patriots, as much as many people want to see them win, a lot of people want to see them fail.”

Now that the problem has been pinpointed, the Flashes enter the 2008 season ready to defend their title, and go further than they did last season.

The Flashes have the returning tools to complete their goals, with five All-MAC players, including the conference’s pitcher of the year in 2007, sophomore Kylie Reynolds.

In Reynolds’ freshman season, where she also won freshman of the year, she had a 1.30 ERA, 254 strikeouts and just 22 walks. Reynolds had a MAC record 17 strikeouts in a game last season, on her way to a 14-7 record.

This season Reynolds wants to continue to play steady and not change that much.

“Keep trying to do what I’m doing and not really let all that kind of get to me. I just want to hopefully have this season be as good as the last one, if better,” Reynolds said.

Reynolds said she hasn’t added any new pitching options but has strengthened her other pitches. She hopes that she can rely less on her curveball, which she relied on often last season.

To help Reynolds, the Flashes hired a new pitching coach, Amy Densevich. The Kent State alumna, who pitched for the Flashes’ first 30-win squad in 1998, expects Reynolds to have a great season, without focusing on individual awards.

“I think as a pitcher, any goal is to keep the team in the game and to win every game that you step on that mound, to own the game,” Densevich said. “I think (Reynolds) is the type of pitcher who wants go in there and win every game she can for her team.”

Of course, Reynolds won’t do it alone. Seniors Corey Houk, Jamie Fitzpatrick, Jessica Toocheck and Kim Hamilton all provide great experience. Hamilton, the center fielder, is a two time All-MAC player who batted .305 last season, and provides speed on the bases.

But the big hitter is at first base in the form of Fitzpatrick, who batted .367 with 42 RBIs. Fitzpatrick provides not only the offensive fire power but also the leadership.


When: Friday through Sunday

Friday: George Washington 10 a.m.

North Carolina Central 12:30 p.m.

Saturday: East Carolina 10 a.m.

North Carolina 12:30 p.m.

Sunday: TBA

Where: Anderson Stadium (Chapel Hill, N.C.)

Linder said the seniors, which also include pitcher Gabrielle Burns, will instill confidence in the younger players, and Linder said the team can take control of games with the younger players’ increased confidence and the seniors’ experience.

The Kent State softball team opens the season this weekend at the Carolina Open in Chapel Hill, N.C.

Contact assistant sports editor Joe Harrington at [email protected].