Season Outlook: New Era Begins for Rams in 2016

Season Outlook: New Era Begins for Rams in 2016

KINGSTON, R.I. – A new era in Rhode Island softball officially gets underway later this week as first-year head coach Bridget Hurlman and the Rams open the season Friday at the Lafayette Ford Lincoln of Fayetteville Showcase in Wilmington, N.C.

Hurlman – who became the eighth head coach in program history last July – inherits a team with plenty of experience. Rhode Island bring back seven of its primary position starters from 2015, plus two pitchers who appeared in at least 25 games last spring.

"All 23 players, including those returning, have bought in to the staff's expectations and vision for a championship culture and program," Hurlman said. "They have shown a true work ethic and genuine desire to succeed. They have worked extremely hard over the fall and during the break to put themselves in the best shape possible to compete for the University of Rhode Island."

Hurlman has four captains this season who will shoulder leadership roles for the team. Seniors Caitlin Kennedy and Olivia Hendricks and juniors Jenna Cubello and Danielle Gariglio will serve as captains for the Rams. For Kennedy, a pitcher, and Cubello, the shortstop, it is the second year in the leadership role.

"Each of our four captains have their own unique blend of leadership skills and have embraced what their strengths are to help lead this team this season," Hurlman said. "They are growing each as leaders and as a unit together. The staff has been really proud of all four of them. All four understand what it means to be about something bigger than themselves, and it makes them authentic leaders not just for our team but within our Rhody Community."

Among the returning players are Cubello and fellow junior catcher/infielder Ali Summers, the team's top two offensive players from a year ago. Summers was an Atlantic 10 Second Team All-Conference selection last spring after batting .347 with six doubles, one double, one  triple and one home run. He batting average was the eighth highest single-season average in program history and her .448 on-base percentage led the team. Cubello, who has started at shortstop since coming to Kingston, batted .312 and led the team in runs (24), doubles (9), triples (3), home runs (5) and slugging percentage (.587).

"I am excited for this upcoming season in terms of offense," Hurlman said. "I think we will surprise a team or two with our new and improved line up. We have had many players improve not only their swing mechanics, but also improve their mental approach at the plate."

The corner infielders will start the season with a new look, as sophomore Kylie Shivery will moved from first base to third, and senior Lauren Klepchick will move from third to first. Shivery was a defensive wiz a year ago, posting a .996 fielding percentage, making just one error in 242 chances. She also led the team in runs batted in, tying Summers with 15.  

Klepchick and fellow senior Taylor Archer – both of whom have been regulars in the lineup throughout their careers – will work at both corner spots, as will Summers. Fresman Becca Simms figures in the mix at first base as well.

Up the middle, Hurlman will have Olivia Hendricks, sophomore Bri Castro and freshman Ally Dabroski at second base. Hendricks has been a versatile asset for Rhode Island throughout her career, playing second base, shortstop, third base and outfield while also serving as the team's pinch runner at times. With 80 games under her belt and a strong understanding of all aspects of the game, she brings a lot of intangibles to the team. She also will be able to spell Cubello at shortstop when needed.

Hurlman has depth behind the plate with Summers, sophomore Madi Housel and freshmen Kelly Licul and Nikki Wild. Summers figures to be the primary starter, though Licul has made a strong impression both offensively and defensively and will see plenty of time in the lineup. Licul and Archer will provide pop in the designated player spot when not in the field.

In the outfield, Rhode Island returns two-year starter in centerfield Danielle Gariglio, who was the only player to start every game last season. She has started 86 games in center over the last two years and brings a calm leadership to the defense.

Flanking her on either side with be junior Marylynn Muldowney in left field and senior Emily Hendricks in right. Muldowney, an A-10 All-Rookie Team selection two years ago, is shifting from second base to the outfield to add more speed on defense. Emily Hendricks has been a starter since arriving her freshman season and has been a fixture at the top of the batting order. Sophomore Paige Julich got plenty of experience last season after Hendricks was injured, starting 27 of the 35 games in which she appeared. She had 10 RBI and seven runs scored in her first season.

Senior Kayla Cruz, sophomore transfer Brianna Heller and freshman Gabby Slade provide the depth in the outfield. A Portsmouth, R.I. native, Heller joined the team this spring after playing at Merrimack last season. She gives the team some speed off the bench when not in the lineup.

With the addition of pitching coach Brooke Boening, Rhode Island is looking at vast improvements from its pitching staff this season.

"We are really excited about the new depth at the pitching position," Hurlman said. "Our game truly starts in the circle and our staff has been working hard to be their best on the mound come spring.

"Brooke Boening has done a tremendous job of assessing each of our pitchers strengths and really working with their skill set to make them as effective as they can be. The returning staff definitely has shown some great strides toward improving their arsenal of pitches and we are very excited for our two young freshmen to show what they can do at this level."

Senior captain Caitlin Kennedy is the veteran of the group, having made 77 appearances and 52 starts over the last three years. Junior Andrea Chiaradio made 15 starts in 25 appearances in her first season with the team last spring. A pair of freshmen, Becca Rogers and Julia Waraksy, will play significant roles right away.

"I think all of our pitchers will contribute in both the starting and relief type roles as the season progresses," Hurlman said. "Our coaching staff definitely will make strategic decisions based on match ups to try and get as many collective wins this season from within the circle. They are extremely supportive of one another and are excited to see what they can accomplish together in 2016."

Hurlman, Boening and assistant coach Mary Holt all express excitement for the season, which gets started Friday with games against Lafayette and Delaware State. In all, the Rams play five games this weekend, as they also play UNC Wilmington and Delaware State Saturday, and a single game against Lafayette Sunday.

"I have learned a great deal about the heart of this team and the wonderful young women that make up our Ram Family," Hurlman said. "I am most excited to see them finally get to compete as a unit and see all of the hard work they have been putting in over the course of this year pay off."