The Virginia Cavaliers reached the postseason in 2017 for the first time in four seasons. Though the Cavaliers just snuck into the conference tournament as the #8 overall seed, first-year head coach Joanna Hardin says the experience helped her team a lot.
“The way that we finished the season, they tasted a little bit of success. I think they got a little taste of the fruit of their labor… winning more games and improving on the previous season was great, but our kids were happy, but not satisfied at the end of the season. It was good, for us as coaches, to see a fire in their belly after the ACC tournament,” Hardin said.
Hardin’s team will begin the 2018 season in a familiar place for their head coach – Lake Charles, Louisiana, home of the McNeese State Cowgirls and the locale where Hardin spent four seasons, including two as Cowgirls’ head coach. The Cavaliers will face off against the Cowgirls in back-to-back games to begin the season. Hardin says she is looking forward to the matchup.
“I think it is going to be great in a lot of ways. From a softball standpoint, they are a great program; a great team; and it is going to challenge us on the field. We want to play competitive opponents and our first two games are going to be against a great opponent [in McNeese]… on a personal note, I’m so appreciative of my time at McNeese and what they did for me in giving me an opportunity, both as an assistant and the opportunity to take over the program as head coach. I’m very thankful and very grateful for them. McNeese is a huge piece of why I am where I am today. I love Lake Charles, I love the kids, love the crowd, love the fans… I have a special place in my heart [for them]. It’s going to be fun and going to be good softball!”
The Cavaliers lost five starters after the 2017 season, including the entire middle of the field from a defensive outlook – center fielder Iyana Hughes, catcher Katie Park, and middle infielders McKall Miller and Madison Labshere all said sayonara following graduation, as did starting third baseman Kaitlin Fitzgerald.
“The key for us offensively [in 2018]is making sure that we maximize our abilities,” Hardin said. “We lost those five starters, who were consistent in the lineup last year. We may not go out and straight-up out-play everybody, but our athletes have a great understanding of the game and we will be smart… we’ll take calculated risk and execute in situations. The key to our offense is really to stay true to our strengths and do it really well.”
A pitching coach by specialty, Hardin said she is looking forward to continuing to build relationships with her pitching staff: “There was some adjusting that had to be done, with my process and calling pitches and such. Relationships are huge between a pitcher and catcher and a pitching coach. It took some time to figure one another out, to learn each other…. I’m really proud of how they developed during the year. They had to work themselves out of some really challenging situations. [The pitchers] really started to develop very well at the end of the season. They used the tournament loss to Florida State to push them even farther over the summer.”
“For 2018, when it comes to wins and losses, I think that changes every year based on where you’re at and based on the team that you have,” Hardin said for her outlook on the 2018 season. “Shared experiences build comradery… we are really young, but if we can look back in May and say that we know we did everything that we could to be successful, then I will be able to sleep at night.”
Hardin and the Cavaliers kick off the 2018 season on February 8 against McNeese State in Lake Charles, Louisiana in the Cowgirl Classic.