For UMBC Softball’s Decorated Senior Class, Expectations Remain High Entering 2022

Since joining the America East Conference in 2003, the UMBC softball team had not received preseason No. 1 honors until the buildup to the 2022 season.

The two-time reigning America East tournament champs were tabbed as this year’s preseason favorite in the conference, receiving five of seven first-place votes. UMBC has been the class of the conference for the past few years, posting an overall record of 60-46 since 2019.

“It’s a high honor,” head coach Chris Kuhlmeyer said. “It puts a major target on our backs for this year, but our expectations remain the same.”

UMBC opens the season with a round-robin against Seton Hall and St. Joseph’s Feb. 19-20. The Retrievers return a robust group of players led by senior Courtney Coppersmith, the two-time America East Pitcher of the Year. She is one of nine seniors, redshirt seniors or fifth-year players on the team.

Catching her and the rest of the staff this season is a cast of seniors, with Anna Lonchar, Logan Hawker and Karly Keating expected to split time behind the plate. The three have been vital parts of this team during their careers at UMBC, and when they’re not catching, they’ll be at their secondary positions in the field.

“There are a lot of different factors that go into it, like who’s starting in the circle or who’s got the hottest bat,” Kuhlmeyer said. “We’ve been giving Karly and Anna some balls in the infield to get them ready to play the field, same with Logan in the outfield. We’ll make those decisions on a game-by-game basis.”

This senior class, much like Lonchar, Hawker and Keating, has been forced to be flexible throughout their careers given that UMBC’s last two seasons have been substantially affected by the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.

The 2020 season ended after just 14 games and last season, seven games were either postponed or canceled as the Retrievers played just 33 regular-season games compared to 48 in 2019.

“It’s been very weird. The pandemic helped us understand more of what was on the line, especially our senior class and fifth-years,” Hawker said. “We know what it’s like to have our season canceled and taken away from us. This game, it’s precious to us, so we want to make sure we stay safe so we can play and try to win championships.”

UMBC has been very successful at winning championships recently, as those two straight conference tournament championships would indicate. The Retrievers also won a regular-season championship in 2021, the program’s first since its initial year in the America East back in 2003.

As such, this senior class has two NCAA Regional appearances under its belt, and as Kuhlmeyer pointed out, it also means the team will have a target on its back. However, considering the Retrievers have already gone through the gauntlet of postseason baseball, that feeling is nothing new to them.

“We know that target is there, but that’s going to continue to push us harder at practice and just trying to make everything as game-like as we can until we get on the field,” Lonchar said.

Though the pandemic is still ongoing, preparations for the season, which began in the fall, have felt the most normal since 2019. Even that thought is something players are still trying to process. Preparations for last season were done in pods and smaller, contained groups compared to this time around.

“We weren’t really seeing each other a lot that fall,” Lonchar said. “It’s kind of a weird transition to this spring when we’ve been seeing each other more all together and then kind of just jumped into games. This year’s been good, but it has been strange.”

The challenges this senior class has been through makes this season that much more unique and special, with the last two years producing never-before-seen situations across the sports landscape.

At the same time, it’s helped teams like UMBC form tight-knit bonds that have trickled down through the entire program.

“We stayed connected through COVID,” Hawker said. “I remember when our athletic director sat us down and said that our season was canceled. It was emotional, but we trained harder over the summer, came back and won the championship again. We definitely grew stronger together and had great team chemistry.”

The Retrievers hope their hard work throughout the past several years culminates in another title. A few members of the senior class still have the opportunity to utilize another year of eligibility due to COVID-19, but this will be the last time most of them will play college softball.

It’s the last season this specific group of players will be together, a thought that hasn’t yet set in for some. There’s still one ultimate goal at the end of the tunnel for these seniors and the entire UMBC program — retain the America East title and return to the NCAA Tournament.

“I’m ramped up and ready to go on the field,” Lonchar said. “I’ve noticed that across the board, our senior class has been ready for one more shot at it. This is it for us, so why not try to make it a three-peat? Hopefully we win, continue on and compete in Regionals. We’re all ready for it.”

Photo Credits: Chris Hook/UMBC Athletics