It’s finally softball season again, and fifth-year head coach Sami Strinz-Ward has her eye on the prize: a West Coast Conference (WCC) trophy.
As LMU softball prepares to play their first home tournament this weekend, Strinz-Ward is confident in her team’s ability to have another successful year and finally clinch the conference championship for the first time since joining the WCC. After back-to-back years of finishing second in the conference, there’s no question about it; she wants to win the whole thing this time.
The Lions are coming off two very successful seasons, including a prestigious National Invitational Softball Championship (NISC) win in 2018. Last year they posted an impressive 40-21 overall record (11-4 WCC) and won the NISC regional championship. The key to keeping the strong momentum this year will not just be the success of individual players, but the team maintaining their close bonds with each other.
“This team is unlike any team I’ve ever coached in that the chemistry they have together is not forced, it’s real,” Strinz-Ward noted. “You can just really feel that they care about each other a lot, and they care about the team as a whole … one of our core values is ‘put us first,’ and they’re really buying into that, so I think that this is going to be a really pivotal year to get us over the top.”
The Lions have been stuck behind a BYU team that has dominated the conference for over a decade, winning 11 straight WCC championships. While the Cougars certainly pose a challenge, Strinz-Ward has no doubt that her team can overthrow them this year.
“I think we have a lot of time to get everything ironed out that we need to, but it’s just going to [take] competing every single pitch,” said Strinz-Ward. “BYU stumbles, and we stumbled last year too, otherwise we would’ve had [the WCC], so we’ve just got to take care of business no matter what the other team’s jersey says.”
Strinz-Ward knows how talented her LMU squad is. She believes that if they stay consistent and play the way she knows they can, the Lions will hold their own with the best teams in the country.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s BYU, doesn’t matter if it’s UCLA, doesn’t matter if it’s LSU in two weekends or Michigan,” said Strinz-Ward. “It doesn’t matter, we’ve just got to do what we do.”
The coaching staff has a young team to work with this season, with 11 freshmen and just one senior on the roster. For Strinz-Ward, the priority is giving her new players ample playing time so that they feel comfortable competing at this new level.
“I think [the freshmen] are doing a really nice job of stepping up overall,” said Strinz-Ward. “They just need experience to learn and grow and trust themselves, but I think they’re doing a good job and we’re just going to get better. The present’s bright and the future’s bright, so we’re in a good spot.”
The team plays its first game at Smith Field this weekend, and the team is looking forward to competing in front of a home crowd. However, Strinz-Ward assured that the team is just excited to play in general.
“We do so much practicing that the reward of playing is always great for them,” said Strinz-Ward. “It’s always nice to be at home; this is our home field advantage … I know they’re excited to play at [Smith Field], but they’re just excited to play, period."
The LMU Tournament begins on Friday at 8 a.m., where the Lions will face Sacramento State.