Feb. 1, 2018

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. — In just seven days, Virginia softball will return to the field aiming to build off its late-season charge and return to the ACC Tournament in 2017.

The Cavaliers ended their first campaign under head coach Joanna Hardin by winning eight of their final 10 regular season games to earn an ACC Tournament berth for the first time since 2013. Now a mix of key veterans and an abundance of youth hope to turn the appearance into a regular occurrence.

With the departure of eight players from the 2017 squad, Hardin and her staff brought in nine newcomers heading into this season. Eight of those nine are freshmen, which accounts for nearly half of the roster. Looking ahead to the upcoming season, Hardin points to one thing that will be pivotal for the young squad.

“Experience,” Hardin said. “Fall was really valuable for us because we had some games, had at-bats and saw opposing pitching, so we learned a lot about ourselves and got a good baseline. We know we’re going to make mistakes and we know the only way to get experience is getting out there and playing.

“As a staff, we understand what that means and our staff is very committed to development — let’s learn from our mistakes, learn from our successes and get better. They work really hard, and our newcomers have really challenged our veterans to work. It’s created a very cohesive environment.”

With the plethora of youth on the roster, the Hoos will lean heavily on their experienced veterans. That experience starts at the top with seniors Allison Davis (Oak Hill, Va.) and Danni Ingraham (Laguna Niguel, Calif.) who have made a combined 308 starts at Virginia. Add in a solid crop of juniors featuring Erika Osherow (Darien, Conn.), Lacy Smith (Lancaster, Pa.), Olivia Gott (Weston, Fla.) and Lexi Mettler (Turlock, Calif.), and there is plenty of leadership to guide the freshman class.

“Their leadership is huge,” said Hardin. “They’ve been there. They’ve been through the ringer and through the ACC, especially Allison who has a ton of games and a ton of at-bats under her belt. Danni has been through a lot as well and I think that experience is invaluable.

“They’ve done a really good job of reaching out to our newcomers and trying to explain what this means and what this looks like. Their leadership will play a big role midseason when kids start to feel fatigued. Their leadership has already been invaluable to us, but it will really resonate when we get into the season.”

One of those veterans and the incumbent in the circle, Osherow, has liked what the younger players have shown thus far.

“They’ve shown they’re ready to work,” Osherow said. “They are going out there and attacking every day and kind of proving themselves on the field and off the field. They want it for the veterans and they want it for UVA softball. They just have a great energy and attitude about the game in general and that’s just going to take them further as we go along.”

Along with the influx of youth has a come a new energy and vibrancy to the squad.

“The first thing that comes to mind with this team is it is a lot of fun,” said Hardin. “It has been extremely enjoyable. They are a very coachable group and a very adaptable group. They want to learn, they want to know why and they just want to get better.

“This group is pretty focused on how do I get better at my craft, my skill, my approach and how do we get better as a team. We have a ton of chemistry and that is huge. They hang out together on and off the field and that has been really, really enjoyable and a lot of fun.”

A focus on improvement has echoed throughout the fall and preseason practices. The idea of improvement is something that has found its way into the team’s expectations heading into the season.

“Overall, just working to get better each and every game,” Osherow said, “no matter what that looks like. We can’t predict what we’re going to look like game one. We have desires and goals as a team, but it’s just sticking to those plans and staying the course no matter what is thrown at us. We just need to stay strong and work to accomplish what we set out to be.”

One week out from opening day, the excitement is palpable around The Park.

“Everybody is ready,” said Osherow. “It’s game time, it’s spring season. We have a few games before ACC play, but we’re going to attack those games as if they were ACC games and see where the season progresses.”

The Cavaliers open their 2018 slate Thursday, Feb. 8, in a doubleheader at McNeese in Lake Charles, La. Virginia will also face No. 20 Tulsa, Houston Baptist and Southern in the Cowgirl Classic.