With 1 senior, youthful Spartans learning on fly
When a team is struggling with leadership, coaches often will tell players to look to the group of seniors for guidance.
MSU softball head coach Jacquie Joseph can’t do that this year.
Looking at the team’s roster, there’s one thing that sticks out: There only is one senior on the 17-member team.
“I don’t remember having so few upperclassmen,” said Joseph, who is in her 17th season at MSU.
Because of a boatload of injuries a few seasons ago, the softball program had to reallocate its scholarship money. The aftereffects of that were present last season, when the team only had three seniors, and once again show this year.
Pitcher Kelly Confer is the lone senior, and the team only has four juniors.
Confer came to MSU with one other person in her recruiting class, but the other transferred prior to last season.
Being the lone senior is a strange role, Confer said.
“It’s different because everyone else has at least three other people in their class, so it’s kind of weird being by myself,” she said. “(Sometimes) I’m included with the junior class just because a lot of them are my closest friends. It’s just weird being the only one.”
The aftermath of having so few upperclassmen is the chance for freshmen and sophomores to get on the field early in their eligibility. That is something many freshmen might not expect to gain in their first year, but it’s something this year’s Spartan rookies are experiencing firsthand.
“Every freshman wants to be out there and play, but I would say it’s getting thrown into the fire,” freshman utility player Jayme O’Bryant said.
The youth and inexperience of the team has shown throughout the season, Joseph said.
The Spartans have owned many late-game leads but have been unable to hold on for the victory in many of them. Saturday, MSU blew a 4-1 lead in the fifth inning to lose to Indiana, which previously was winless in the conference.
“The youth has shown in every way,” Joseph said. “Whether it’s on the field late in games or in the locker room or on the road with traveling.”
Confer said the ability to close out games is something the younger players aren’t used to having to do.
“For a lot of our underclassmen, they haven’t been around the Big Ten and college games for long,” Confer said. “In (high school) softball you can get away with just not finishing, but in college you need to stick a dagger in and you need to beat teams down when you’re ahead and finish.”
With the team lacking in leadership, Confer would seem to be in a position to fill the role, since she is the lone senior. Instead, the quiet pitcher is more of a lead-by-example type of player.
“I am more of a reserved type of person and I’m not one to be outspoken in certain situations,” she said. “So I definitely try to lead by example and show everybody because I’m not going to be the loud and outrageous one.”
Despite the late-game bumps the Spartans have dealt with this year, O’Bryant said she is confident the experience will help lead to a successful season next year.
“It’s going to be major because we’re losing only Kelly and we’ll already have a year under our belt so next year we should be pretty strong,” she said.