Season Preview: Softball eyes a return trip to the Centennial tournament

HAVERFORD, Pa. - The Haverford College softball team turned heads last season with a memorable campaign that ended in the Centennial Conference championship game. The Fords are hungry for more in 2014 as a veteran roster aims to take the next step and capture the conference title.

Haverford rewrote the program records books in 2013 with new single-season highs in batting average (.314), slugging percentage (.449), hits (349), runs scored (240), runs batted in (194), doubles (64), home runs (23) and total bases (500). That lineup returns virtually intact ready to give pitching staffs around the Centennial nightmares.

Leading the way is senior Jen DiCandilo, who set single-season program records for doubles (15) and total bases (80) and finished among the league leaders in runs batted in (tied for second), doubles (second), slugging percentage (fourth) and runs (seventh). DiCandilo, a first-team all conference selection in 2013, was also a force in the field as she authored a highlight reel of defensive plays at third base over the course of the season.

Dayle Comerford has been a mainstay at first base for the Fords over the first two years of her career. Comerford enters her junior season ranked fifth in the program's career record books in slugging percentage (.528) and doubles (26) and is one of six returnees who hit over .300 last season.

Lauren Touey was one of just four Fords to start all 39 contests last season as she offered a steady presence at shortstop. Touey was also solid at the plate with .339 batting average and .402 on-base percentage.

Jill Schnall made 26 starts at second base in 2013 while classmate Stephanie Wolfson helped solidify the middle infield with 15 appearances at second. Wolfson, ranked fourth on the team in batting average (.314) last year, also provides the Fords an experienced option at designated hitter.

Senior Elizabeth Newman, a first-team all-conference selection in 2013, gave the Centennial fits as Haverford's leadoff hitter last year. Newman set single-season program records in batting average (.439), on-base percentage (.516), runs scored (45) and hits (58). The center fielder, who has started every game of her career, also ranked second in the conference in batting average and was a threat to score anytime she reached base as she paced the Centennial in runs scored.

Joining Newman in the outfield will be juniors Sarah Brody, Julie Garlick and Brianna Lowey, along with sophomore Miwa Wenzel. Brody played an important role in last season's success as she led the team in sacrifice bunts (11) and finished second in steals (five). Wenzel, who made 16 starts at designated hitter last season, was also a threat on the basepaths with 14 runs scored in her first year in the program.

Wenzel's classmate Kristin Tatum made an instant impact on the program with a single-season program-record seven home runs. Tatum finished among the team leaders in batting average (second, .311), slugging percentage (second, .592), runs scored (third, 27) and runs batted in (third, 27) while making 33 starts at catcher. The standout rookie campaign included two grand slams and a program-record eight runs batted in against Eastern University on March 21 and a three-run home run against visiting Gettysburg College on the final day of the regular season that helped the Fords clinch a spot in the conference playoffs.

Haverford's deep pitching staff was a major factor in the Fords advancing to the 2013 conference championship game. Seniors Claire Fitzgerald and Brittany Stevenson will look to shine in their final seasons in Haverford uniforms. Having struck out 185 batters in her first three seasons, Fitzgerald ranked fourth in the Centennial with a 2.41 earned run average (ERA) on her way to a 6-2 record in 2013. Stevenson, who pitched the program's first perfect game in 2012, will look to give the Fords another weapon in the circle after missing her junior year due to injury.

Pitchers Sara Tauriello and Emily Winesett will aim to build off impressive rookie seasons that saw the duo combine for 20 wins. Tauriello earned second-team all-conference recognition as she ranked among the Centennial leaders in ERA (second), wins (fourth) and strikeouts (sixth). The left-hander also tied the program's single-season record for batters struck out in a season (95) and set a new single-game mark for strikeouts (15) on March 10 against Brandeis University during her freshman year. Winesett, who matched Tauriello's single-game strikeout record days later, topped the team in innings pitched on the season with 107. Kendall Chambers, the lone first-year player on this year's squad, will provide another talented option for the Fords in the pitching circle.

Picked third in the preseason poll of conference coaches, Haverford faces another tough non-conference schedule in preparation for the challenging Centennial slate. The Fords' spring break trip, beginning with a contest against Salve Regina University on Sunday, March 9, features eight games in the Florida sun including four contests against teams that hit the 20-win mark in 2013.

March 18 brings Immaculata University to campus for Haverford's home opener and the conference schedule kicks off a week later with another home contest against Washington College in a rematch of last season's championship tilt.

Head coach Jen Ward, in her 10th season, expects another memorable season at Class of '95 Field in 2014 as the Fords look to be a factor once again in the Centennial playoff picture.