Montclair State University’s club softball team has had some strong performances in the National Club Softball Association (NCSA), which they owe to their team’s reliance on sisterhood.
Senior outfielder Meghan O’Neill says the chemistry within the team is present even when they aren’t playing.
“We’re a family,” O’Neill said. “We love each other and we’re all best friends at the end of it, whether it’s within the sport or outside of it.”
Along with O’Neill are two other senior leaders, President Nicole Ferry and Vice President Kasey Coury, who commit themselves to operating games, lineups and coaching for the group while also filling in key positions like pitcher and catcher.
Their practices are held in the Student Recreation Center at Montclair State, where each individual player introduces a specific part of the game they’d like to work on, leading to suggestions and hours of training from the rest of the group.
Those intense practices have helped shape several players into dynamic roles, most notably junior third baseman Allie Leach, who willingly plays several positions when the team lacks depth.
Leach was first introduced to the club when the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic broke out, cutting her season short. Though COVID-19 made it tough to conduct any games or practices, Leach was able to make an early friendship with teammate Tina Ilkow, who currently holds the highest batting average on the team this season at .600.
“[Ilkow] is probably the most knowledgeable person on our team when it comes to the sport and that’s a great characteristic of hers,” Leach said.
Though the club has an overall record of 8-13, they have clearly personified what it means to work collectively. They have won doubleheaders by a score of 8-1 and 9-5 against Bucks County Community College in Newtown, Pennsylvania.
The team continues to have stellar play from key positions as pitcher Ferry holds 15 strikeouts this season, while O’Neill has five outs from the outfield. The senior also had a tremendous spike in her batting average from the fall 2021 semester at .268, to a now impressive .462.
As the wins add up, O’Neill has started to prioritize building confidence amongst her group to take over the helm. With May 1 marking the end of the season, O’Neill looks to spark up leadership commands from players who will stay past her graduation this semester.
“I have so much confidence in the team,” O’Neill said. “I know some of the girls are very quiet and don’t feel like they can take on the leadership roles, but they have so much to offer … I want the girls coming back to continue our [seniors’] legacy which is being positive and going into games wanting to win every time.”
A winner’s circle starts by finding the right people to take on opening positions. Ferry and Coury acknowledge how filling the most vital roles of the executive board can be challenging.
In previous tryouts conducted, they stressed the importance of finding people who fit the club’s morals rather than the skill set brought to the table. The goal was simple: find a group that is willing to work together not only in games, but also to build a bond outside of the sport.
“The biggest challenge has been striking that balance between being a leader of this team and also wanting to be a friend,” Ferry said. “I want to make sure everyone is satisfied, which is hard because there’s a lot of people to take into consideration, but we want everyone to abide by those rules.”
Their commitment to this mentality helped revive a story that was reaching its end. O’Neill had played softball her entire life, but as she was entering her first year of college, she had decided to give the sport a rest and pursue opportunities to support her family.
That was until she saw a post on Instagram of the club team’s tryouts, giving her all the motivation to give it one last ride.
“I’m so happy I just did it,” O’Neill said. “I’ve built so much confidence in myself and so many friendships along the way with this team.”