With New Coach, George Washington Looks To Keep Building
In 2021, George Washington capped off a historic college softball season, which resulted in its first outright Atlantic 10 championship and NCAA Tournament appearance in program history.
This season, however, things will look a bit different for the Colonials. One of the biggest changes will be in the dugout, as new head coach Chrissy Schoonmaker took over the program this offseason. For Schoonmaker, the most exciting aspect of her new job is the student-athletes.
"The potential of GW is through the roof of what this program can do, what this university can do and what these student-athletes can do," Schoonmaker said. "So if you're paying attention to the softball landscape and really invested in what's going on in the softball world, you look at GW and you can really see the potential of this program, and that starts with, first and foremost, the people that are in it."
One of those players who played a key role in the program's rise is two-way player and graduate student Sierra Lange, who was named the A-10 Pitcher of the Year after going 12-1 and posting a 1.41 ERA in conference play. GW also took home the Player of the Year and Coach of the Year awards for the 2021 season.
While having an impressive season in the circle, Lange also had a strong season in the batter's box, hitting .392 with seven home runs and 34 RBI on the year.
"For pitching, defense really helped me out a lot many times by getting me out of jams, and our offense did that as well," she said. "Having my teammates pick me up helped me really feed off of their energy and feed off of their momentum. Having them by my side on and off the field has really helped me gain that success."
After dropping the first game of the A-10 Tournament to Dayton, GW won four straight games, including beating Dayton twice to win the A-10 championship and make it to the NCAA Tournament. It was the first time fans were back in the stands, and as Lange describes it, the experience didn't feel real to her.
"That was so cool," she said. "For one thing, we didn't get to have fans all year, and so having fans at the stadium was such a different atmosphere. I know when I was pitching, I felt like (I was) on cloud nine. It didn't even feel real because we've never been on that big of a stage with that many fans. So, as a team, we were just so excited to be there and so grateful we had this opportunity."
As Schoonmaker enters her first year in charge of GW's program, she'll be adding her philosophy by hiring coaches who are experts in their field to make the team elite on each side of the ball. She plans on focusing on situational defense to go along with the pitching staff. Along with Lange, Stanford transfer Maddy Dwyer and sophomore Maddie Spell will assist on the mound in 2022.
One of the biggest changes to the offense will be the departure of A-10 Player of the Year Jenna Cone, who graduated. Schoonmaker admits that the way the team's offense works might look different from last year.
While Lange will be a part of the new-look offense, she states that she has to earn the position of being a key bat in the lineup. She adds that the rest of the returning starters like Alessandra Ponce, Hannah Eslick and Olivia Vinyard will all step up and make the lineup successful this spring.
With Schoonmaker now starting her tenure at GW, she wants to take the program to the next level by making it a powerhouse in the conference and creating more opportunities for the Colonials to play in the NCAA Tournament. Her experience being around Geno Auriemma and Dawn Staley at previous stops in her softball journey has taught her that every year is a new year, and her goal is to take the pressure off her players.
"If you look at a lot of those elite teams, they're trying to measure up to what they did, or what happened last year, and they feel the pressure to do that," Schoonmaker said. "We certainly are going to have those goals, but I don't want our student-athletes to feel this pressure to replicate. I want our student-athletes to have an awesome experience of going and writing their next chapter, so that's the focus that we'll work on."