Fall ball is over for softball

Eau Claire softball hopes for a short winter and an early spring


Photo by Elizabeth Jackson

Setting the tone.

This is what UW-Eau Claire softball coach Leslie Huntington said is the primary purpose of the team’s participation in fall.

Also known as fall ball, this is the time where coaches and players get a first glimpse at what next season’s team will look like.

Coaches and returning players make sure freshmen understand both the level of play and commitment expected of them as well as what it will take for them to have success at the collegiate level.

“(Fall ball) is about building the team, starting to develop team chemistry,” Huntington said. “It’s about individual skill work and helping players understand what specific things they need to work on during the offseason.”

For the Blugolds, fall ball started the first Friday of the semester, Sept. 5. The NCAA allows teams to have 16 contact days within five weeks with a maximum of four practices in a week, so Huntington and her coaches have been meticulous when planning and running practice.

“‘We can’t practice more than eight hours in any one day,” Huntington said. “The only time we really push the eight-hour limit is when we play.”

The team did just that last weekend as it played at Winona State University (Minn.) in Winona, Minn. last weekend.

Huntington described the opportunity to play games during fall ball as a bonus, and getting the chance to play a nationally ranked Division II opponent such as Winona State as a measuring tool.

“The players had a real good experience because it was very competitive and our players should take a lot of confidence out of that day,” Huntington said. “It motivated me even more for preparation for spring, and my hope is my players felt that same type of confidence and motivation to work hard to hit the ground running next season.”

Senior Amanda Fischer said playing Winona State was a change of pace from regular fall ball activities and showed a benchmark for where the team is at.

“Going into the offseason, last weekend really got us excited,” Fisher said. “Playing a good Division II team and holding our own really showed us what we’re capable of in our conference and division.”

The Blugolds played a triple header against the Warriors and lost all three games. After losing the first two games 4-2, the third game was held scoreless until the bottom of the sixth inning when the Warriors scored three runs and won 3-0.

Huntington’s major takeaway from the games was the increase in defensive play. Every year the coaches emphasize the importance of defensive play, and Huntington said when a team’s roster consists of as many hard hitters as this team’s does, defensive can turn a good team into a championship-caliber team.

Huntington said she saw her players showing off their arm strength by not only throwing people out, but by making what she called “no-doubter” plays.

“We had a play from center field throwing a Winona State kid out trying to score from second, and we threw her out at the plate,” Huntington said. “And from right field, we had another play where we threw a kid out going from first to third base.”

Fischer said committing only one error throughout the three games was awesome for the team, and stellar defense performances has other effects on the game.

“With a strong defense your pitchers are more confident, your hitters are more confident,” Fischer said. “We did everything with confidence and we were relaxed.”

The team’s last official meeting until practice resumes in January took place Tuesday. Huntington, who is not allowed to have coaching-related contact with the players until January, used the meeting as opportunity to capitalize on the boost the team got after playing Winona State.

“We expect a lot from our players and the success for next season is dependent on training in the offseason,” Huntington said. “It’s important the players remember how those games felt against Winona and channel those emotions into the offseason.”

Fischer said the team understands the importance of offseason training and holds themselves to high expectations.

“(Offseason training) is a joint effort and past teams have set the expectation for the program,” Fischer said. “Everyone wants to succeed so we don’t have to pull teeth to get people into open gym, and that set standard is just how we roll.”