By John O’Connor, Contributor
The Jasper women’s softball team made history last spring by winning the MAAC championship for the first time since 1999. After a 6-3 win over the no. 2 seed, Canisius College, the Jaspers finished their regular season with a winning record of 22-14.
The Jaspers advanced to the NCAA softball championship, where they were defeated by the sixth seed, University of Arkansas, and eliminated by a second loss to Stanford University. The Jaspers had a final record of 22-16.
Manhattan College will be honoring their MAAC accomplishment during the men’s basketball game on Sunday, Jan. 30. The team will be presented with their championship rings during a halftime ceremony.
“We haven’t seen the rings yet, I think it is supposed to be a surprise,” Jessie Rising, senior pitcher for the Jaspers, said. “We are kind of messing in new territory.”
As the season gets into full swing, Rising describes the team mentality as opportunistic, something her coach, Cat Clifford, instills upon them at every practice.
“Even though it’s freezing outside like, you get to be out here you get to play,” Rising said. “She says there’s 22 of us. There are 21 or 22 jerseys, like anyone in the country would kill to be in a Division I spot wearing a Manhattan jersey.”
Monmouth University women’s softball has proven to be a major contender in the MAAC, so when Manhattan won three out of four games against Monmouth in April of last year, they knew there was something special about this team.
“When we beat [Monmouth University] three out of the four times it was like wow we are good,” said Gabriella Mazzotta, a third-year member of the team. “We’re better than we think, we could beat any team.”
This triumph was one of many moments of clarity for this team. To Kaitlyn Flood, a junior catcher and infield player, the Jasper’s victory over Marist College in last year’s playoffs proved to her this team had what it takes to bring home the title.
“When we had to play Marist, we’d never played them before, we still beat them knowing they had one of the best pitchers in the conference,” Flood said. “ I think that was like a moment where like, wow, we’ve already been on other teams you have to play besides them. So we really do have it.”
As the 2022 season approaches, the Jaspers are preparing to defend their title. Even with six of their nine starting players having graduated after the 2021 season, the team feels confident because of their new talent, especially freshmen pitchers Ava Metzger and Gabi Mills.
“Yes, we lost a lot of strong players but we brought in a lot of strong freshmen and I’m really confident with our two pitchers especially,” Mazzotta said. “I think they’re gonna contribute a lot.”
While many teams would take such a big hit to the roster as a year for rebuilding, the Jaspers are preparing to pick up right where they left off. Flood explains that the incoming freshmen have a maturity typically only seen in more seasoned players.
“I think another strong suit they have is different habits like they don’t have the mindset of a freshman, they’re not scared.” Flood said.
All eyes will be on the Jaspers as they open up the 2022 season at the McNeese St. Cowgirl Classic in Lake Charles, Louisiana.
“I think going there is going to be like a telltale of how hard we worked versus other people because these are great teams and I think it’s then starting to iron out all the mistakes,” Rising said. “So it’s not about going there and getting wins even though we want to win. It’s about ironing out all the things that we’ve been trying to iron out to get back to that title.”
Rising has seen this team grow and transform over her past four years as a Jasper and feels as if this is the first time that she’s felt such a connection both on and off the field.
“We genuinely just want to help pick each other up,” Rising said. “ It’s selflessness, it’s for the team and I don’t think I’ve fully seen it like I do now in four years.”
As she heads into her final season with the Jaspers, Rising most looks forward to seeing her teammates experience everything they may have missed out on due to the pandemic four years on the team.
“Even though last year was as exciting as it gets, it gets more exciting than that,” Rising said.
Due to COVID-19, the team only experienced conference games, keeping them local but disrupting parts of the bonding process.
“Like the road trips with each other and just the experiences … I think that will make us better too because we get that experience on top of it rather than being very restricted by COVID,” Rising said.
With the 2022 season nearing closer, Rising and her teammates continue building those bonds to take into their games this spring.