The mentality is that the only acceptable outcome is an Ohio Athletic Conference title, something last achieved in 2013 when Cap won the regular season championship. Last year, Cap finished 19-19 overall and missed out on the OAC Tournament behind an 8-10 OAC record.
"I think we're going to be one of the top. That is our goal. That is our mindset," said Coach Payne. "We're not stopping until the end. That is just our goal. OAC Champs. We're going all the way with it."
A six-woman senior class will help lead that charge with all expected to contribute in a serious way. Big bats have always been prevalent in Capital's lineups since Payne took the helm, and senior Marisa Koss (Ostrander, Ohio/Buckeye Valley) fits the bill. The first baseman has a career .313 batting average, and as a sophomore, she hit .412 with three home runs and 20 RBIs in just 23 games before injuries set in. Her leadership both at the plate and in the field will be of high value to the team.
Seniors Natalie Mabry, Sarah Jasinski and Katherine Boyer are all experienced pieces to the puzzle in the infield, with Brooke Hokes adding speed and depth in the outfield. Jasinski started at second base last year, while Boyer did a majority of the catching duties. Mabry may serve in a rotation of catchers that include Boyer and sophomore Chevonne Haslett
|Marisa Koss | Sr. | 1B|
|Amber Martinelli | Sr. | P|
Even with six seniors leading the way, the competition levels are at their highest coming out of camp.
"There is competition all the way around," said Payne. "The level has been lifted. It has brought every individual and the team into a new position."
Payne indicated that the team is filled with pure athletes that bring many tools to the table, including a balance of speed and power on the offensive end, plus solid gloves in the field.
Two of three outfield positions will need to be filled from last year, but the one staple that returns is junior Bailey Walter (Ashland, Ohio/Crestview), who stepped into the starting lineup last season. She hit .309 as a sophomore and posted 11 extra-base hits (8 2B, 3 3B) and 11 RBIs, while turning in four outfield assists. Junior Sarah Stafford and sophomore Sierra Sanchez could provide options to serve two roles, one in the outfield and the second as a possible replacement as a lefty slap hitter.
Junior Haleigh Luce (Greenville, Ohio/Greenville) has drastically and positively transformed her swing into one of the best on the team over the offseason. Luce saw limited time last year but if cage work is any indication of her progress, she could be on the fast track to find a spot not just in the outfield, but in the middle of the lineup.
"She is probably right now the hottest bat we have right now," said Payne. "The confidence she is displaying and the way she is attacking the ball has been absolutely unbelievable. She is really making a name for herself."
Sophomore Kristen Mellott (Clear Spring, Md./Clear Spring) is one of the strongest individuals on the team and may be a top option in the middle of the lineup. Payne was not shy that power hitting has been a defining mark for her program, and this year that trait can be found up and down the roster.
"Our philosophy has always been if you're doing the job at the plate then we're going to find you a spot, and we have those athletes," said Payne.
Junior Pam Vickers (Sagamore Hills, Ohio/Nordonia) is also a favorite to lock down the shortstop spot and serve as one of seven left-handed hitters the Crusaders return for 2017. In 2016, Vickers hit .254, six RBIs and 10 stolen bases.
Payne had high praise for the freshman class, and indicated that they will certainly compete for playing time. A few names to look out for include utility player Torey Katzmeyer (Gahanna, Ohio/Gahanna Lincoln), INF/OF Cory Mangen (Clayton, Ohio/Northmont), corner infielder Emily Cantley (Louisville, Ohio/Louisville), and MI/3B Morgan Fadel (Broadview Heights, Ohio/Brecksview-Broadview). Fadel may have a faster track to contributing heavily with her versatility combined with one of the strongest bats within the freshman class.
"She doesn't get rattled, and she's very versatile," said Payne of Fadel. "She is very smart at the plate, makes adjustments extremely well on her own, and has potential for both consistent contact hitting but also power hitting. She is fast on the bases and makes good judgement (calls) out there. I think she's just a well-rounded athlete and well-rounded player."
Inside the circle, the entire OAC knows about senior Amber Martinelli (Allison Park, Pa./Hampton). Despite playing through injury last season, Martinelli was among the top pitchers in the conference. She finished third in complete games (15), fifth in earned run average (2.15), sixth in batting average against (.248), overall. In conference play she gave up the second-fewest hits (88), pitched the most innings (83.0), and had the second-most wins (7). She was named Second Team All-OAC last year and is the lone accolade winner returning this year.
Payne said of Martinelli, "This year Amber is 100 percent healthy. She is swinging the bat again for us. She is definitely our number one coming in. I don't think there is any doubt that she is our workhorse. Amber keeps the ball down, which gives us a lot of easy ground balls. Her drop ball is definitely her strength but her offspeed mixed with that drop ball keeps hitters off."
Additional pitchers working for time behind Martinelli in the circle include sophomores Brianna Reardon (Fremont, Ohio/St. Joseph Central Catholic) and Steph Hunter (Chardon, Ohio/Chardon), and freshman Kayla Wild (Tecumseh, Mich./Techumseh) who joined the team in January.
While the starting lineup has not been set and the team's spring break trip to Clermont, Fla. will allow for a lot of experimentation, the roster has been constructed so that there is a little bit of everything to attack teams with. Injuries withstanding, Payne indicated that there will not be much that slows down the 2017 Crusaders, and even then their depth will kick in to serve as a valuable asset.
"We're not going to settle for the average plays anymore. We believe in these kids. We believe in the skills sets we have. We believe in our senior leadership, the kids that came in and those in between."
The spring break adventure begins with a doubleheader on Monday, Feb. 27 against Neumann College (9 a.m.) and Alma College (11:30 a.m.). Fans may see the Purple and White in action at home for the first time on Wednesday, March 15 when they host Bluffton College at 3:30 p.m. at Clowson Field.