By Marissa Chamberlain, Contributing Writer 

As the 2017 season approaches, the UMF softball team is looking to be a contender in the North Atlantic Conference (NAC) with new head coach Kat McKay and many strong freshman additions.

Despite being a young team with only one senior and two juniors, McKay is confident in her players’ abilities to succeed this season. “I think that we’re going to turn some heads in the conference this year,” she said.

McKay brings 13 years of coaching experience to the team, including one year as assistant softball coach for the Beavers during the 2015 season. Most recently, she was head softball coach at Poland Regional High School for four years. She has also coached basketball at Poland and soccer and softball at St. Dominic Academy, where she served as assistant athletic director last year.

McKay said that it was hard to leave her job as assistant athletic director, but coaching was ultimately what she wanted to do. “I wanted to be a collegiate softball coach for a while,” she said. “Coaching is what I wanted to do full time.”

Coaching became a passion for McKay due to her experiences as an athlete. My coaches that I had had in the past were big influences in my life and I wanted to be that for someone else,” she said.

McKay said her favorite part about coaching softball at UMF is the athletes. “They have had some overturn with head coaches in the past few years,” said McKay. “The girls here want to be successful. They have the desire to win and better themselves.”

Kiana Thompson, a junior center fielder, has noticed an unbelievable difference in this year’s team compared to previous seasons. “A huge freshman class that came and more than three pitchers has given us more looks as a competitive team,” Thompson said.

With a roster full of newcomers, Thompson explains that the team is working hard to find their groove. “Chemistry of our team right now is growing,” said Thompson. “As such a young team we are learning day by day on how to play with each other.”

Last year, the team won seven games according to McKay, and Thompson and the rest of the team are looking to build on that. “I want to become closer as a team so we can trust each other on and off the field,” Thompson said. “I think that the NAC will underestimate us and we are going to open some eyes when they see us play.”

Freshman and second baseman Amber Grady said the transition from high school softball to the division three team was nerve wracking, but McKay and her teammates made her feel welcome. “We all support each other on and off the field,” said Grady. “It is nice to know that no matter what we will all have each others back.”

According to McKay, the team will be heading to Florida on March 25. Grady explained that the week-long trip is stacked with 3 double headers and one triple header. Although the team will be enjoying the warm weather, the games aren’t just for fun because the wins and losses count to their season. “These games are going to show us where we are at and where we stand. It will show us our strengths and weaknesses,” said Grady. “I am excited and ready to see us on the field and playing together.”