Season Preview: Commitment To Learning And Growth To Lead Mountain Hawks Back To The Top
As the Lehigh softball team enters the 2022 season, the Mountain Hawks are committed to learning and growing. Head coach Fran Troyan enters his 27th season with a new-look coaching staff and a talented group of players. It’s a group that mixes accomplished veterans with talented, but unseasoned youth. As the Mountain Hawks prepare to embark on the new campaign Troyan believes that if the Mountain Hawks maintain their commitment to the process and can continue their growth, the Patriot League’s most successful softball program can reclaim its perch at the top of the league.
“Honestly, I really love this team,” Troyan said. “They are really hard-working. They are very open to learning and open to coaching but they are not very seasoned yet. We have a lot of young players who are really talented. We just need to become battle-tested and we’ll battle test them pretty quickly based on our preseason schedule.
“As we go into our competitive season we are intent on clearly communicating to the team that we are focusing on the process and not necessarily on the result,” Troyan continued. “But at the same time, we feel like we can beat anybody that is on our schedule. As long as we learn and grow in the early part of the season I’m 100 percent sure that we will be primed and ready to go come Patriot League play.”
The Mountain Hawks are coming off a strong fall season of growth and development, as Troyan has brought into a new group of assistant coaches. There is strength in the six member senior class, who have helped lead the way throughout the fall season and now into the spring.
“Because of the pandemic, the seniors are the only class year that has played a midweek game,” Troyan noted. “So we are relying on that class to help educate the younger players as to what to expect because everything will be brand new for basically three classes here. They have honestly done a phenomenal job. I also could not be proud of them. Each one of them in their own way has provided leadership that will allow the program to be better from a cultural standpoint and will allow this team to be better from a competitive standpoint and experiential standpoint as well.”
Pitching has long been cited as the key to success in softball and Lehigh returns one of the top hurlers in the league in senior Gabriella Nori. The left-hander was a first team All-Patriot League honoree in 2021 and was named to the All-Tournament team. She went 9-7 with a 2.47 ERA and 87 strikeouts last season and had three shutouts, including a one-hitter at Lafayette and a two-hitter against Colgate in the Patriot League Tournament.
Sophomore Katelyn Young threw the second-most innings on the staff in 2021 and came on strong late in the season with wins in her final four starts. Classmate Ansley Dambach blanked Lafayette in the regular season finale and looked to work her way back into form after missing time due to injury.
The Mountain Hawks also feature a pair of first-year right-handers in Maria Urban from McLean, Va., and Anna Bjorklund from San Clemente, Calif.
“We are aiming to peak coming down the stretch,” Troyan said. “Our young pitchers will need to get as much experience as possible. Gabi is an outstanding pitcher, and she is about as healthy as she has been since her first year. Katelyn Young got tremendous experience last year and finished the season incredibly strong. Maria Urban is a talented first year pitcher and Anna Bjorklund brings a different element than everyone else and could really add great value to the program.We’re still working through an injury with Ansley Dambach but she’s starting to come back.We feel like we have the pieces to have a potent staff.”
The five-woman pitching staff will work with three catchers: senior Melissa Fedorka, sophomore Amanda Greaney and first year Rory Dudley. Greaney returns the most experience behind the plate, batting .273 in 25 starts at catcher. Fedorka split her time between catcher and first base, while Dudley brings athleticism and could figure in behind the plate or elsewhere.
Lehigh’s infield is highlighted by strength up the middle with senior captains Carley Barjaktarovich at shortstop and Karsen O’Rourke at second base. Both players were all-league performers in 2021 with Barjaktarovich earning the league’s Defensive Player of the Year award and first team NFCA All-Region honors. Barjaktarovich led the league in batting (.471), hits (57) and stolen bases (19). O’Rourke chipped in a .294 average with five doubles.
At first base, Lehigh returns a pair of seniors in Melissa Fedorka and Addie Kittel. Fedorka, the lefty option is the slick fielder, while Kittel provides pop from the right side of the plate.
The lone position where Lehigh lost its 2021 starter is at third base with the graduation of Payton Alsobrooks. Junior Josie Charles and first-year Hanna Aldrich will vie for time at the hot corner and can also provide depth in the middle infield if called upon.
Lehigh returns all three of its starting outfielders, led by right fielder Jaelynn Chesson, who was first team All-Patriot League and second team NFCA All-Region last season. Chesson ranked in the top five nationally in doubles and RBIs per game as she contributed 16 doubles, eight home runs and 50 RBIs in just 34 games.
Junior Emily Cimino hit .342 with 32 RBIs last year and finished the season with a flourish, earning All-Patriot League Tournament honors. She also impressed with her center field defense, but will likely begin 2022 as Lehigh’s left fielder.
Sophomore Brooke Cannon contributed a .295 average and 12 RBIs as a first year. She impressed in the preseason with her outfield defense and is expected to move from left field to center.
Speedy junior Lexington Poole wants to push for time in the outfield. Poole has the tools to be a dynamic offensive threat. First year Lindsey Martin from Morgan Hill, Calif., will also compete for time in the outfield.
Lehigh will have three captains in 2022, with Barjaktarovich and O’Rourke selected for the second consecutive season and joined by Cimino.
“It’s nice to have a couple of seniors and it’s nice to have a junior as well so that she can learn from those two,” Troyan said. “Each one of them has done a great job not only leading by example but when needed, leading vocally as well.”
Troyan likes his 2022 team and will challenge them with one of the most ambitious pre-league schedules in program history. Lehigh will play 12 games against NCAA Tournament teams from 2021, including a Women’s College World Series semifinalist and a Super Regional participant. The Mountain Hawks will also battle eight Power 5 opponents to prep for the always challenging Patriot League slate.
“Our goal is to be right in the mix competing for Patriot League regular season championship and Patriot League Tournament championship,” Troyan said. “We definitely will need to stay healthy for that to happen but we are committed to chasing those goals.”
Lehigh will open the 2022 season with five games over three days at the Wolfpack Classic, Feb. 18-20 in Raleigh, NC The Mountain Hawks will face Mount St. Mary’s and host NC State on opening day, Feb. 18 and then will face Fairfield and the Mount again on Feb. 19 before closing out action against Fairfield on Feb. 20.
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