With the upcoming season only a little more than three weeks away, it's time to preview the 2012 MAAC softball season team by team, beginning with the two-time defending Champion Iona Gaels.
Talk of the Gaels' chances in '12 as always begins and ends with star senior pitcher Sarah Jackson. A quick rewind back to 2011 shows Sarah losing out on Pitcher Of The Year honors to Sarah Minice, but Sarah J. beating her rival twice on Championship day with a devastating performance. I wrote at the time that Iona's experience would come into play; and it did. But most of all it was the fierce and determined competitiveness of Sarah Jackson that put the Gaels over the top again. Having watched her live and up close for the past years, I can tell you that she is one of the most intense players to have ever suited up in the MAAC. Now entering her "swan song" season, Sarah still has something to accomplish. She will try to win a third consecutive championship for Iona, a feat accomplished only by Canisius. For any team to win it all this season, they will have to beat Sarah Jackson, and probably more than once.
The Gaels will have a double threat this season, with the return of Alyssa Maiese, who will be a redshirt senior in '12. Alyssa qualifying for a 5th season is huge for the Gaels; in 2011 she carried the offense on her shoulders, leading the MAAC in home runs. She should be just as strong this year, but offense isn't the only game she brings. Her pitching improved dramatically as the 2011 season progressed, finally giving the Gaels the second pitcher they need. The Gaels may have the conference's best one-two punch in the circle in 2012.
There was some struggling with the rest of the team in 2011. Junior Eileen McCann battled a foot injury all season, and it certainly affected her play, although she seemed to recover by the end of the season. A healthy Eileen is a very important piece of the Iona puzzle; a return to her freshman form gives the Gaels two formidable power hitters in the middle of the lineup.
Senior Allyssa James and Junior Jodi Petersen (pictured left) both had down seasons in 2011. I don't suspect the slumps will continue this year, but Coach Rivera needs to get these two going in 2012, especially Jodi, who I see as a very dynamic player who has the tools to do everything on the diamond. Jodi has the ability to be the best player in the MAAC. A player to watch for this season is sophomore Katie Jansson who gave us glimpses of greatness, and finished with a solid freshman season. Senior Chelsea Sheehan ended 2011 in very strong fashion, going on a long hot streak. She will bring leadership and solid play. Fellow senior Deanne Algeo lifted her play last year, showing some power along the way. She should be a regular in the lineup. With the probable exception of pitcher Carly Argyle, the Gaels' freshmen will compete for playing time. Carly's time will come next year; she can learn much from watching Sarah Jackson this season.
The Gaels are going to be tough to beat in 2012. They open up their season on February 11 in DeLand, FL.