Softball’s freshman class makes impact

Colin Harris

For most freshmen, the first year of college is focused on getting acclimated to a new environment and just fitting in.

The seven freshman members of the Kent State softball team are no ordinary freshmen.

Having to deal with the graduation of seven seniors from last year’s team, Kent State coach Karen Linder signed an unusually large class of freshmen, a class that has already made significant contributions to the team in its first year of collegiate softball.

“Usually, a freshman class might be between four and six athletes, so this is an exceptionally large freshman class,” Linder said. “It’s a very talented class, though. It’s a class that had that ability to come in and make an immediate impact, and I think they have, especially since we’ve been counting on some of them in our starting lineup.”

Five freshmen in particular, Kim Hamilton, Jessica Toocheck, Whitney Lebowitz, Corey Houk and pitcher Keir McEachern, have answered Linder’s call for an immediate impact as they have all earned significant time in the starting lineup.

Two of those freshmen, Hamilton and Toocheck, have garnered recognition by taking home Mid-American Conference East Division Player of the Week honors this season for their solid play.

“Jessica has done a great job. She started the year in center field, and we brought her in and moved her to shortstop, and she’s been hitting the ball really well,” Linder said. “Kim started at short(stop), and we’ve moved her to the outfield. She’s doing a good job offensively. I feel very fortunate that we have two freshmen who are being recognized within the conference as far as what their skills and their abilities are.”

The class has been particularly strong in regard to pitching. McEachern was named MAC East Division Pitcher of the Week in March, and relief pitchers Jamie Fitzpatrick and Gabrielle Burns have also made important contributions throughout the year.

Sophomore pitcher Brittney Robinson has been impressed by how the freshmen have performed this season.

“I personally think that freshmen have taken a very large role on their shoulders and have carried it well,” Robinson said. “I think they have stepped up in certain positions and situations that have helped our team immensely. They are a big part of this team since they are replacing the seven seniors from last season.”

One of the biggest adjustments a college student-athlete must face is time management. Having to balance a full load of classes and commitment to the team is something that can be a struggle. Linder said she thinks her freshmen have been able to handle the challenge as well as can be expected.

“Trying to handle and balance everything they’re trying to do in the given time-frame with the right focus has been a big challenge for them,” Linder said. “I think that they’ve grown as individuals in terms as understanding what it takes to be successful as a student and as an athlete.”

Linder went on to say that the freshmen are going through the same growing pains as any other student-athlete in their first year of competition: the adjustment to a much higher level of competition.

She said that it has been a constant struggle with the pressures that they put on themselves as athletes and members of a team, as they try to adjust to the higher level of competition that Division I displays when compared to what they saw in high school.

“Just trying to handle that stress of trying to do well every single day has been difficult for some of them,” Linder said. “Then, the idea of maturing as a player and understanding the game is played at a little faster pace is more challenging.”

Contact softball reporter Colin Harris at [email protected].