By Rob Abruzzese
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
While most of Brooklyn was suffering through one of the coldest springs in recent memory, the LIU Brooklyn softball team has spent most of the last two months either down in Florida or out in California. It wasn't their most successful road trip, as the Blackbirds finished 9-20, but according to senior Madison Zymkowitz, it was their most productive spring of her four years at the school in terms of growth.
"This is a young team, but it's an exciting one," Zymkowitz said. "Some of the girls are still adjusting, but you can see a real difference that they've made in just a few short weeks. Most importantly, it got us ready for conference games. The way I feel right now, this is the time to get pumped. I think we're ready for a run here."
Head coach Roy Kortmann, who has won 10 Northeast Conference titles with the Blackbirds in 10 years, agreed and said that he’s happy with the way the team has played since being back in the Northeast, but added that they still have some room for improvement.
“It's a new picture, a new painting and you never know what's going to happen or how it's going to go,” Kortmann said. “Our kids are developing. They're still not where we need them to be. This is a very young group with only a couple of seniors, but I think they are starting to get it mentally which is an important part of the picture.”
It was just two years ago when the Blackbirds last won the NEC championship. Last season, they made it to the NEC finals, but lost to Central Connecticut. The Blackbirds have already swept Central Connecticut University, the team that beat them in the finals, and split a series with Robert Morris, who hosted the NEC playoffs last year.
“This conference has gotten so tough in recent years,” Kortmann said. “Everyone has at least one pitcher that can keep them in ball games. Our conference is really competitive, but for us, Central beat us in the championship game. Getting through those two teams early in the year and going 3-1 against them, I think it's going to be really good for us.”
One player that has emerged that could really help the Blackbirds this year is freshman Shelley Proctor. It was Cassie Vondrak that pitched them to a championship in 2012, but she came just short of glory again last season. However, with the freshman in the mix to lighten the load it could really help the team.
"Shelley is from San Diego, she had an amazing high school and travel career and is now adjusting to pitching in Division I,” Kortmann said. “So far she's been great. She's is learning quickly what she can get away with and what she can't and she doesn't overthrow.”
Proctor credits Vondrak with a lot of her success this season while she has adjusted to the college level. “It's been awesome playing with Cassie,” Proctor said. “She has helped me grow up throughout the season and I wouldn't be where I am right now without her.”
The lineup, with Whitney West leading off, Kayla Gloady batting second, Lauren Morizi hitting third, Jazmin Rodriguez hitting cleanup and Ariana Lopez and Madison Zymkowitz hitting fifth and sixth, has started coming together after being a bit up and down early on.
“We were stinging the ball early on, but what happens with a young team is that opposing teams develop scouting reports on you,” Kortmann said. “So everyone else catches up and now they are focused on adjusting to their weaknesses.”
The bats have been waking up though. Gloady homered as LIU Brooklyn scored 10 against Manhattan College, five players had at least two hits, including homers by Zymkowitz and Celinna Cosio, against a tough St. John's team, and Madison Green hit a grand slam to beat St. Francis University on Sunday.
The Blackbirds have three more weeks and 10 games to go before the NEC Tournament. With a 5-3 record, they currently are sitting in third place and they don’t have any conference games left on the schedule against teams with better records than them.