by CHARLES LIPPOLIS, Contributor
In the past six seasons under head coach Tom Pardalis, Jasper softball has developed from a mere .500 team to a formidable title contender. Pardalis credits this success to the tight-knit groups he has been able to coach during his years at Manhattan College.
“Chemistry over the past two years has been phenomenal,” said Pardalis, who has been a part of several distinct teams during his 40-year coaching career, including the 2006 MAAC champion Marist Red Foxes. Pardalis specifically holds his seniors of past and present in high regard, recognizing how they have paved the way for a tradition of winning.
One of those seniors this season is reigning MAAC Player of the Year Elena Bowman. Heading into her fourth year, hailing from San Mateo, Calif., Bowman also ended last season with 1st Team Captial One Academic All-American and All-District Honors, as well as All-Northeast Region 2nd Team Honors. Nonetheless, the 2016 Preseason All-MAAC catcher and recent addition to the USA Softball Top 50 Watch List is not yet satisfied with her career, and her desire for a championship is motivating her in her final season.
“The expectation is to win,” said Bowman, who has been a part of teams that have flirted with championship births her whole career. The 2014 Jaspers fell short in the title game against rival Iona, and last season’s playoff run was cut shorter than that, as the team fell in the elimination round, just two games shy of the title game. “There were glimpses of who we could be,” recalled Bowman, which is what she explained has been a key motivator for the 2016 Jaspers to go out and actualize their potential this season.
However, this is far from a one-woman show, as the team exhibits exceptional chemistry support, and energy with one another. This behavior has been cemented in Pardalis’ system, with Preseason All-MAAC selections Briana Matazinsky and Jenn Vazquez doing their part to uphold this standard. 1st Team All-MAAC honoree, Vazquez—in her third year—has become a significant leader on the team with her gritty play and ability to stay healthy; and has used her leadership to inspire the freshman this year to step up.
“Once you’re on this campus you are no longer a freshman,” Vazquez explained, as she expects the winning tradition to carry over into this season, with the help of any player whose number is called. When asked about the end of the 2015 campaign, Vazquez demonstrated a forward-thinking mentality.“You can’t look back,” Vasquez said, with an affirmation of the team’s agenda to make this year count.
Embodying the mature underclassmen persona more than any other play on the roster is Briana Matazinsky, who was a significant role player for the Jaspers in her freshman year. While tossing 96.2 innings and sporting a 3.91 ERA in her rookie season, Matazinsky was also able to contribute a .276 batting average while playing out of right field, numbers that earned her a place on the 2015 All-MAAC rookie team. Matazinsky was able to transition well on the mound, meshing with her teammates through the trust she gained in the fielders around her. “I have a good team behind me,” affirmed Matazinsky, who started 17 games in 2015. She and Vazquez also seemed to be on the same page about 2015, as Matazinsky has focused on learning from her own mistakes, while leaving them in the past in anticipation of upping her game in 2016.
For Pardalis, he recognizes the passion his team has and how little external motivation they need to make the most of their opportunity. “On the field we keep it simple,” explained Pardalis, as his practice routine focuses on getting his team reps and letting them find their form.
As far as off-the-field development, Pardalis enjoys being along for the ride, and relishing both development and maturation of his players as athletes and as people. Jasper Softball has established its dominance in the MAAC, and with a well-rounded squad that clicks on and off the field, the team seems poised to continue its success in 2016.