Vikings softball is setting off their season with a trip to Irvine, California, to play in the annual Concordia University Irvine Kickoff Classic after ending their 2022 playoff run with a loss in the Great Northwest Athletic Conference championships.
Western is scheduled to play their first game on Feb. 3 against Concordia University Irvine on day one of the tournament.
During last year's run in the CUI Kickoff Classic, the Vikings lost three of their games at the start of the season but ended the tournament with back-to-back wins.
Vikings softball head coach Sheryl Gilmore said entering this year there is a lot of new talent. For the team to get more comfortable with each other, moving forward Gilmore wants to focus on communicating, working together and competing with the same goal in mind.
“The team is excited to compete against somebody other than ourselves at practice,” Gilmore said. “This group is competitive, and they do a great job of not letting the outside noise bother them.”
Western softball is going into this season with five freshmen, one of which is infielder Hailey Rath.
While attending Eatonville High School, Rath became the Washington state high school home run leader with 24 home runs in her senior season alone, as well as the state stat leader in three other categories: slugging percentage, RBIs and runs.
Rath said that she knows the transition into college ball is going to be tough, but she is up for that challenge.
“My mentality is to keep playing the softball I know I can play,” Rath said. “I will still play my heart out whether it’s a tie-ball game, close game or blowout. I will always be ready to make improvements.”
Along with the freshmen, there is a veteran presence being added to the coaching staff through Megan Marino, the team's graduate assistant. Marino played at Western for three years (2018 to ’20), while assistant coach Shearyna Labasan was a Viking from 2016 to ’19.
“Having two recent players on the staff as coaches is so valuable for the team and for me. They do a great job of offering perspective,” Gilmore said. “They know what it’s like to be in our players’ shoes because they just experienced it.”
The two former Vikings aren’t the only veteran presence for the team. First baseman Brooke Fesenbek is returning for her senior season.
Fesenbek, during the 2021 season, ranked 10th for batting average in the GNAC and was placed on the GNAC All-Academic team in 2022.
Fesenbek said her journey in the offseason was quite different compared to previous years, as she is transitioning into playing first base compared to her previous position playing third.
“We have been putting in a lot of work this offseason, practicing six days a week with weekly intersquads,” Fesenbek said. “It’s exhausting, but it's worth it. As a team, we have been working really hard on and off the field.”
Not including the 2020 season, where the majority of games were canceled due to COVID-19, the Vikings have finished above .500.
Fesenbek said the team is becoming restless due to the fact that they can’t play anyone other than themselves, and she’s hoping for her hard work to pay off once the season begins.
“They have a great perspective on what this journey is about, and they have a ‘take care of business’ attitude,” Gilmore said. “They know we will be challenged and are excited about it.”
After the CUI Kickoff Classic, the team will have a one-game stint in Canada against the University of British Columbia, after which they’ll be heading to Honolulu, Hawaii, to play in the 2023 Hawai’i Invitational.
To catch the Vikings at home, they’ll be returning to face off against the Northwest Nazarene Nighthawks on Feb. 24 at Viking Field in Bellingham, Washington.
Kota Sato (he/him) is a sports and recreation reporter for the Front and third-year student at WWU. Majoring in news/editorial journalism, he enjoys writing most on topics that revolve around American football or basketball.