What makes prospective students who visit Bowdoin’s snow- and ice-covered campus in the middle of winter want to come here? Similarly, what makes a prospective softball player want to be a Polar Bear—faced with indoor practices in Farley or out on the turf lacrosse field throughout February and March, and even shoveling the softball field in April?
This is a reality faced by most New England spring teams, and the softball team has learned how to not only rise to the challenge, but greet it with excitement.
“We’re really excited for the season and all the challenges that it faces as a spring sport here,” said captain Caroline Rice ’19. “Just rolling with the punches and just making the most of everything that we have all of our resources—whether we’re in Farley or on the field or in Florida. We just love to play.”
Hopefully the 34 high school student-athletes, who showed up to a recruitment program put on by the team last weekend, felt that excitement too. The recruits got to meet the team for a Q&A, a short tour of campus and a clinic in Farley Field House.
“We’ve been able to attract really talented players that want to look at a place like Bowdoin College or similar institutions,” said Head Coach Ryan Sullivan. “We’re in here for three hours, and we’re throwing and hitting, and running and pitching and catching and doing all the things softball players do. A lot of kids were very impressive.”
Luckily Farley provides a great space for the team to practice while there’s still snow on the ground.
“This is home for us, you know,” said Sullivan. “And we’re fortunate to have a facility that from a spatial standpoint we can almost put a whole field in. Short of scrimmaging in [Farley], we can get a lot of skill and drill work done, so we try to be creative with what we’re doing in here.”
The team held its first practice of the season on February 15 as it prepares for the upcoming season. Last year, the Polar Bears came in second in the NESCAC championship; this year, the team is expecting another great run.
But first the team must confront a variety of challenges—one of which is a new roster including three first years. Six seniors graduated last year, including three of the team’s strongest hitters and its starting catcher, but the Polar Bears are prepared to adapt.
“It’s this unique situation where we have to reinvent ourselves a little bit from our leadership model,” said Sullivan. “I think we have a lot of really talented people on our team to do that on the field and off the field. So we’re in a very good place right now.”
“The first week of practices has gone well. I think everyone’s looking good, feeling good. And I think we all work together really well, which is a big component,” agreed Rice.
However, the team does need to fill the large gaps left by the graduated class, which demands a high degree of versatility and a steep learning curve.
“This year we are going to have younger players step into more playing time and potentially different positions in some cases,” said Sullivan. “So it’s a little bit of practicing those positions, and everybody being on the same page and getting used to playing next to each other on the field, and how that all fits together.”
In addition, having a balanced roster allows the program to maintain a higher level of play from year to year.
“We haven’t had to rely on one or two individuals to carry the team. We have really good depth throughout the roster,” said Sullivan.
While the small team size—13 players this year—can pose challenges, captain Sam Valdivia ’19 noted that there are definite perks.
“It gives you an ability to get to know girls a lot better than we might on a 20-plus person team,” said Valdivia. “Another thing is that a lot of girls show up because they know that if they don’t show up to practice we’ll be short-staffed, like there’s a certain accountability that comes with our small size.”
The coaches also promote a close-knit family culture within the team.
“[They] encourage the family culture that we have and give us the space to be honest with them about what we need.”
The team’s first match is on March 13 against Westfield St. in Minneola, Florida, and the first home series will be on April 5 and 6 against Tufts.
The excitement to get outside and on their field is clear.
“Being from California, I’ve never been more excited, like a kid on Christmas morning, when I tie up my cleats and then my metal cleats take that first step in the dirt,” said Valdivia. “We spend our whole preseason in tennis shoes in Farley Field House and sometimes we’ll occasionally get to go outside on the turf, still in tennis shoes, but it’s so nice to finally get to be in cleats and step in dirt and not be cold. It just makes you appreciate the sport a lot more during those moments.”