Last season was an interesting one for Emory University’s softball team. Without a full roster, the bench sat empty. Still, the Eagles won nearly half their games. This season, however, the team has a full bench and a new head coach.
Senior pitcher Natalie Swift recalled last season’s roster struggles and said she is excited to have a full roster this year.
“It’s really awesome to have a full team,” Swift said. “We’re a really young team, but the young girls that we have also have so much experience from having to play as sophomores. Adding numbers this year with the great, big freshman class, we can be really successful.”
The team’s new coach, India Chiles, said she is preparing the women to “play with courage and guts.” Before accepting the position of the new women’s head coach, Chiles coached a youth national team with the primary focus of getting her players recruited by college coaches. Ironically, the same happened to her when Director of Athletics Keiko Price offered her a position as head coach of the Emory women’s softball team.
Chiles said that she is eager to coach the team’s first game as it will add the “last layer” they need to become a team after months of practice and strategizing.
“That first game will be the last new situation with me,” Chiles said. “I’m really excited to get over that hump with the girls, so that we can buy into this new family that we have.”
Chiles is not the only newcomer to the team. Eight first-years will be on the field this year, including pitcher Georgia Pineda. Chiles explained that pitchers and catchers train the most because they control the game.
“They’re the only people that touch the ball the most,” Chiles said. “They are doing extra time with conditioning more than the team, and they’re putting in more hours in practice. They’re not necessarily elected team captains, but they have to put the team on their back.”
Each week of the preseason includes three early mornings of lifting, two days of conditioning and two of on-field practices, Pineda said.
“It was definitely hard to adjust,” Pineda said. “Especially when every day is so taxing at the beginning of your freshman year because you’re meeting so many new people and doing so many new things.”
However, Pineda noted the company of returning players eliminated much of the confusion which comes with the adjustment period for first-years.
“I’m definitely glad they’re there,” Pineda said. “Just having people to follow made it definitely a lot easier.”
With a less than full roster in the previous season, more playing time was not always ideal. In order to avoid forfeiting games, pitchers were playing the hot corner at third base, and catchers were not playing their primary position. Everybody was playing everywhere. Chiles describes the returning players as “warriors.”
In order to establish a strong team culture, Chiles introduced a puzzle. Each player has their own piece, with one word they picked before the season encapsulating their role on the team. The idea is that if everybody is able to articulate their role, they can find their responsibility and identity within their squad.
Swift’s word is “composure” because she can keep a level head in all situations. Pineda’s word is “reasonable” because she’s quick to understand the importance of practice and coachability.
“These pieces will revolve somewhat,” Chiles said. “You may not be the centerpiece in the month of May … But you’re still there, and we need you. Everyone has a role.”
All 18 players fit together not just as a puzzle but as a family. Chiles wants to shift the players’ mindsets to make the words “team” and “family” synonymous because then they will cultivate a common work ethic. Chiles said the team will only be able to get to the World Series after they achieve that feeling.
“Of course I want postseason play,” Chiles said. “I want to be in Texas playing for a championship, and that’s realistic for this team. That’s the scary part of our talents — when we look ahead because we know how good we are.”
Chiles said her number one goal for her first season at Emory isn’t result-focused but rather taking it “one game, one inning, one pitch at a time.”
Sasha Melamud (she/her, 27C) is from Clearwater, Florida, planning on majoring in creative writing and spanish. In her free time, Melamud enjoys being out in the fresh air, fitness, and hanging out with friends.