(PRESQUE ISLE, ME) -- When looking for signs of progress within a program, coaches will often look to how a team "finishes". In other words, have the players taken the lessons of early season practices and games and used them to improve as individuals and collectively as a team as a season wears on? By that metric, the University of Maine-Presque Isle softball team showed great progress as a program in 2012 under first year head coach Peter Coffin.
The Owls finished 2012 with a 14-21 overall record, but a 12-4 mark over their final 16 contests. It is that second number that has both Coach Coffin and Owl faithful excited about a 2013 season that will get underway this Saturday, March 23rd, with a doubleheader at Wheelock (MA) College.
"I use the 12-4 finish as an example of how confidence in yourself and your teammates can have a positive affect," said Coffin who returns at the helm, "when I talk to our new players, I explain that the biggest reason for our strong finish was the returning players gained an understanding of my philosophy. I was the fourth coach in four years. So there was a learning curve and our final record showed that everyone was able to pass the test of time."
While the 2013 roster is peppered with newcomers, Coffin feels that he has enough returners to allow the team to build off of 2012's late season surge.
Peers will be making the move from centerfield to shortstop this season. Offensively she brings back great plate discipline, leading the team by drawing 20 walks in 2012 which helped boost her on-base percentage to an impressive .397.
Coffin initially had her sophomore season slowed by a knee injury, but recovered to be a dominant force from the pitching rubber for the Owls. The hometown hurler led Presque Isle in wins (5), strikeouts (45), and ERA (3.85). Back to full strength in 2013, the Owls will lean heavily on the junior's right arm this year.
With 10 freshmen on the team, a key will be meshing the old and new. However, Coffin sees player turnover much less of an issue when there is consistency at the top.
"As a coach, it is always difficult to take over a team that has had a large turnover in coaches. I feel like this is my team, and I have the ability to build a team with my philosophy and expectations. I will say that this year has been a pleasant surprise. The four returning players are very good role models and are helping the younger players get acclimated."
So with a foundation now in place built with continuity, late season success, and an influx of young and fresh talent, what goals are in the Owls' sights for 2013?
"My first goal is to have a winning season," proclaimed Coffin. "I know that we are capible if we can stay healthy. We are better off this season depth-wise at every position. In order to have a winning season, we have to work as a team. I know this team is dedicated to winning and to working as a team. I believe that the new players have bought into my approach and the four returning players want to build on the success we had at the end of the 2012 season. On a lighter side, I also believe 'Mother Nature' needs to starts working with us so we can get our games in this season."
Early indications are that 'Mother Nature' may not be taking any calls from the Northeast at this time. UMPI was to open the 2013 campaign with three games down state last weekend but all were cancelled due to unplayable field conditions. The 10+ inches of mid-week snow that she dropped on Northern Maine this week, does not inspire hopes that an early spring is just around the corner. So while games scheduled in late-March remain a 50/50 proposition, the Owls know with relative certainty that they will be playing ball during the school's spring break the first week of April when they head down to Virginia.
Once again this season, home games will be a scarce commodity for the Lady Owls. The team will play 28 road games before finally getting some home cooking for the final five contests.
With pitching and defense looking to be strengths of this year's Owls, if the bats can warm up at a quicker pace than Maine's spring weather a winning season should be in the forecast for 2013.