On Wednesday afternoon Kristi Stefanoni couldn’t wait to get on the plane Thursday.
There was still plenty of snow from recent storms all over campus and on the UMass softball field, so Stefanoni was eager to head south and begin her fourth season leading the program.
“We’re chomping at the bit. We’re ready to head out there,” she said. “I am excited to get out of this cold and starting playing someone else.”
UMass will play five games in three days in Florida. The Mintuewomen open Friday against Robert Morris (2 p.m.) and Siena (4:30 p.m.). They’ll play Southern Illinois (9 a.m.) and Central Michigan (2 p.m.) Saturday and will face Oakland Sunday at 9 a.m. before returning.
UMass will play tournaments in Waco, Texas (Feb. 24-26), Starkville, Mississippi (March 3-5) and Davis, California (March 10-12).
The Minutewomen’s home and Atlantic 10 openers are March 25 against St. Bonaventure at Sortino Field.
Stefanoni is hoping her team grows a lot between this weekend and conference play.
“They’re very young. Maybe we’ll find ourselves a little bit and the younger kids and get a feel for what the next couple of months are going to be like,” she said. “I’m obviously hoping for some wins and some great games, but I’m hoping for some good learning experiences for them.”
Sophomore Erin Stacevicz is UMass’ top returning hitter. The center fielder hit .362 last year out of the leadoff spot.
Senior Tara Klee, who started in right field last year, is the most experienced middle of the order bat. She hit .276 with seven home runs and 24 RBIs last year.
Meg Colleran returns in the circle as the clear No. 1 pitcher to start the season. A year ago, the junior was 22-17 with a 2.08 ERA. Freshmen Quinn Breidenbach, Candace Denis and Maddie Sadler could see action as well.
“Meg knows more is expected of her this year. Not from a pitching standpoint, but from a leadership standpoint,” Stefanoni said. “With Meg’s experience, we’re going to look to her a lot.”
Denis will likely start at short when she’s not pitching.
Freshman Kate Dennis, a Las Vegas native, will get first crack as starting behind the plate.
Jenna Cozza, who hit .400 with 11 home runs and 26 RBIS in the fall, tore her ACL in the fall and will miss the season.
Matt Vautour can be reached at email@example.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage