Jumbos return to splendid form in 2018

First-year Kristi Van Meter pitches in Tufts' 3–1 win against Bowdoin on March 30. Allison Culbert / The Tufts Daily

Following a disappointing 2017 campaign, the Tufts softball team got back on track in 2018, finishing the regular season with a 28–7 record en route to reclaiming its spot among Div. III’s upper echelon. Despite losing 5–1 to the Williams Ephs in the NESCAC semifinals, the Jumbos earned an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, advancing to the final game of the Northeast Regional against the MIT Engineers. After staying alive with a 2–1 win on Monday morning, Tufts ran out of gas in the deciding game later that day, falling 7–0.

Most of the members of this year’s young team had not reached a national championship, and it showed in the squad’s identity. Its humble work ethic and mentality of “25 strong” carried it through a successful — yet sometimes difficult — season. Coach Cheryl Milligan was especially proud that her players competed with each other so vigorously while also supporting one another.

“’25 strong’ has been really great for us,” Milligan said. “We’ve seen teammates in the same position really pull for each other to do well on game day and practice day, which is important. We understand it’s a competitive situation when we’ve got 25 kids and they all want to play, but when you can compete against your roommate and cheer for them, you’re in a pretty good place in terms of the character of your team.”

The team consisted of eight rising sophomores, eight rising juniors, four rising seniors and five graduating seniors. Given the youthful skew, the group faced a steep learning curve. The squad began the season with its annual spring break trip to Clermont, Fla. to escape the New England winter. The young team wasn’t fazed by the collegiate atmosphere, though, beating the powerhouse University of Wisconsin-Whitewater on the way to going 11–4 on the trip. More importantly, they discovered their identity of “25 strong” and bonded while living, all 25 of them, in one house. The trip gave the players an opportunity to dial in for the rest of the season.

Throughout the rest of the season, the team had highs, like beating Amherst twice — highlighted by rising sophomore Edie Huling’s incredible diving catch in the first game to save a 2–1 victory — and lows, like losing to Babson and Bates, 3–0 and 1–0, respectively.

Graduating senior Raven Fournier turned in another stellar season, hitting .370 as of May 13 to go with a .444 on-base percentage. Opposing hurlers often pitched around or walked Fournier out of fear of her immense power, illustrated by her three regular-season home runs. Fournier’s classmate, Samantha Siciliano, was consistently a top performer for the Jumbos, as her four regular-season home runs led the team and her five triples tied for first among NESCAC players.

In the circle, rising sophomore Kristi Van Meter shined in her debut campaign with a team-high 109 innings pitched and a team-low 1.13 ERA as of May 13. Van Meter’s classmate, Kristina Haghdan, also impressed, recording a 1.30 ERA as the Jumbos’ No. 2 starter during the regular season.

For Haghdan, what has most impressed her is her teammates’ dedication. Like many of her classmates, Tufts softball is simply on a different level than that to which she was accustomed, and her whole class has embraced the grind.

“When I was in high school on club teams,” Haghdan said, “you have maybe three kids who take softball as a full-throttle passion. But we have 25 kids showing up every day, even with our academics. I’ve had so many times where a ball is hit and I think, ‘they’re going to get on base with that,’ and I turn around and my teammate makes an incredible play. My teammates impress me every day.”

The team has also taken it upon itself to help out the surrounding community. In the fall, the Jumbos spent an entire Saturday building a house for a low-income family through the organization Habitat for Humanity. In the winter, they took a pledge to spend three hours each completing community service work.

Altogether, Tufts softball appears to be back on track as legitimate national contenders.