The Cal Poly softball team has a tough nonconference schedule. Of the 14 games the team has played, 10 have been versus ranked opponents. So far, the result has not been good for the unranked Cal Poly team.
The Mustangs have a 2-12 record coming out of the Cathedral City Classic Tournament last weekend. The Mustangs squared off against No. 11 Texas, No. 6 Oklahoma, No. 7 Washington, No. 20 LSU and No. 14 California. Though head coach Jenny Condon hoped the team’s efforts would result in wins, the quality of the nonconference competition is what’s most important.
“When I arranged the preseason matches I intentionally scheduled the teams that I did — those are the teams that consistently make it to postseason, and I wanted to be sure Cal Poly was exposed to that caliber of opponent early,” Condon said.
The team is working hard to learn from each game orchestrated by Condon, said Nora Sobczak, junior left fielder. Although the team’s record is not great, it doesn’t reflect what’s been happening on the field, Sobczak said.
“We’re not totally failing like our record suggests,” Sobczak said. “Sometimes we are losing in the last couple innings. Though it might not seem like it, we are improving each game, and the (nonconference matchups) have given us a solid base to work off of.”
Kimberly Westlund, a freshman shortstop, said improvement is evidenced in the game Cal Poly played against Texas Feb. 25.
“Even though we lost, progress was there,” Westlund said. “Our pitching was better … no homeruns were hit, and no runs were scored in the first inning. That’s what (nonconference) is for — learning from our mistakes so we don’t make them in league play.”
In addition to the foundation being laid by the preseason, the lineup is also positioning the team for postseason success. There is a formula used in collegiate sports known as Ratings Performance Index (RPI) which is a ranking calculated based on a team’s win/loss record, as well as the quality of their competition. Playing these ranked teams will increase Cal Poly’s RPI, making it higher than those of Big West opponents.
“The winner of Big West automatically gets a postseason bid, but the other bids go to the teams that have the highest RPI,” Condon said. “Even though we’ve been projected to win Big West, I can’t bank on that. If we don’t take first place, I wanted to be sure Cal Poly still had the opportunity to compete in postseason play.”
Postseason competition is on the mind of senior pitcher Anna Cahn. Cahn wants to make it to postseason “more than anything” and does not believe Cal Poly’s current record is any indication of what’s to come.
“Even not winning is preparation … sometimes losing is OK because we played to the best of our abilities and did good things,” Cahn said. “We have a really young team, and we are using (this competition) to work out the kinks and make the necessary adjustments.”
The team currently has a player breakdown of two seniors, two juniors, four sophomores and eight freshmen. Since the team is so young, upperclassmen have stepped up to provide support and guidance for the younger members, Cahn said.
The age of the team has motivated Condon to take advantage of “teaching moments” in preseason play. Westlund said such lessons have been crucial in the team’s advancements.
“Before the Cathedral City Tournament we talked a lot about winning the first pitch … not waiting for two strikes to go by before making an attempt,” Westlund said. “In the Texas game we did much better with that.”
In addition to teaching, veteran players are also playing a key role in the development of the younger players. Sometimes the best advice on how to improve comes not from the coaching staff, but rather from fellow players, Sobczak said.
Condon agrees, and said the team as a whole has good chemistry. The freshmen are settling into their roles nicely, and the upperclassmen “aren’t trying to manage (the younger players) … everyone on the team has a voice, and that’s what will make the team better, faster.”