By Marshall Haim
Assistant Sports Editor
The Canisius softball program hopes to continue their winning ways after a very uplifting 2016 campaign. The Griffs ended last year losing in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) semifinals to the eventual runner-up, the Monmouth Hawks.
Head coach Kim Griffin returns six starters and all but one pitcher from last year’s team. Having many familiar faces can be a very good thing, but the Griffs’ team this year does have many new faces to the program, bringing in eight freshmen.
Here is an in-depth look at what you need to know about the Griffs going into the 2017 season.
Silence the voters
Canisius was predicted to finish fourth in the MAAC in the conference’s annual preseason poll. Marist, last year’s champion, was voted as the favorite, receiving 10 first-place votes. Monmouth (one first-place vote) and Fairfield finished in second and third respectively, ahead of Canisius in the preseason poll.
Lindsey Silfer, a senior outfielder, was named the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Preseason Co-MVP. Silfer shares the honor with Marist’s sophomore infielder Claire Oberdorf. Silfer is the lone Canisius representative to be named to the Preseason All-MAAC team.
Last season, the Cicero, N.Y. native batted an impeccable .417, while tying the Canisius season hits record (70) with Jenny Maheu and Katie Miranto, who both achieved the feat in 2008. Silfer added eight home runs and 40 RBIs. She became the first Canisius player to be named an MVP since Miranto was a co-MVP in 2008.
Canisius returns six positional starters from last year’s team: Sami Sharkey, Denver Keller, Destiny Holani, Moriah Harris, Silfer, and Lauren Castro. Pitchers Erika Mackie, Madi Weathers and Castro all return to share time in the circle. Taylor Decker also returns for her senior year.
Sharkey, one of three seniors on this year’s team, batted .284 in 43 appearances last season. In her three-year career, Sharkey owns a .297 batting average in 118 career games, 108 of which are starts.
Keller began her softball career with Canisius last year with a .254 batting average. She added two home runs, driving in 18 runs. Primarily a second baseman, the Miami, Fla. native held a fielding percentage of .920 in 95 fielding opportunities.
Holani, like Keller, a freshman last year, assumed the role as the team’s starting catcher for 38 of her 43 appearances. She batted .180, while contributing three doubles and a triple, whilst driving home 11 runs. Holani committed just three errors in 153 chances last year, controlling a team-best .983 fielding percentage (with a minimum of 100 fielding opportunities).
Harris, a current junior, batted .283 for the Griffs last season. When not in the batter’s box, Harris was one of the Griffs’ reliable infielders, earning a .964 fielding percentage, primarily playing first base. The Clarence, N.Y. native added seven home runs and 25 RBIs offensively.
Decker, after playing just nine games in 2016, returns for her final season. She had 13 at-bats, collecting three hits (a .231 batting average). The Phoenix, Ariz. native started three games in 2016.
Castro, one of the key components for the Griffs last year, returns for her sophomore season. The then-freshman, named to the All-MAAC Second Team as a utility player, was able to not only pitch; she was also utilized as the team’s designated player (designated hitter, for the baseball folks). Castro hit one home run, driving home 12 runs while controlling a.267 batting average offensively last year.
Circle of pitching
Mackie, one of Canisius’ go-to pitchers, returns for the Griffs in 2017. The Scranton, Pa. native had a team-best 2.86 ERA while making 31 appearances during her sophomore year. Mackie finished the year with 10 complete games, pitching 144 1/3 innings while striking out a team-best 68 batters. The southpaw hurler limited the opposition to hit just .274 off her last season.
Weathers, one of the three returning pitchers for Canisius, hopes to bounce back from a decent 2016 campaign, in which she pitched in a team-high 32 games. Last year, Weathers concluded the season with a 3.89 ERA while pitching in 120 2/3 innings, striking out 63 batters. On top of pitching in the most games by a Griffs pitcher, she owned the team-high for complete games (12).
Castro, when not being used as the Griffs’ designated player, enters the circle for Canisius. Castro owned a 2-5 record in 17 appearances (nine starts) during the 2016 campaign. In Castro’s 17 games as a pitcher, she had an ERA of 4.88 in 61 2/3 innings pitched.
Canisius boasts eight freshmen on this year’s team, coming from all different areas of the country. Three hail from California, while two came right from New York. The Griffs also bring in lone representatives from Hawaii, New Jersey, and Texas.
Ashley Barnett, primarily an infielder, comes from Orange, Calif. Barnett, a two-year letterman at Mater Dei High School, was also a member of the school’s honor roll.
Sydney Kreimann, a Whittier, Calif. native, joins the Griffs this season for her freshman season. The infielder spent four years as a member of her high school’s softball team, hitting .349 for her career, including 53 runs scored and 51 RBIs. Kreimann was an honor roll student while attending St. Paul High School.
Sue Vi, a Livermore, Calif. native, joins the Griffs to play the outfield and can also play behind the plate. A four-year varsity letterman in softball, Vi hit .254 while collecting three home runs while playing for the Matadors. She was an all-league honorable mention as a junior at Granada High School.
Gianna Degaltini is the first of two New York newcomers this season, while being one of five players from New York State. The 5-foot-4 infielder hails from Yorktown Heights in Westchester County. As a senior at Yorktown High School, Degaltini received All-Section honors while playing for the Huskers.
Morgan Altman, the last of two newcomers from the Empire State, hails from nearby Orchard Park, N.Y. The 5-foot-9 outfielder attended West Seneca West High School, where she played two varsity seasons for the Indians. She hit an astonishing .484 in her senior season. Altman was named to The Buffalo News’ All-WNY Honorable Mention last season. On top of holding impressive accolades for softball, she currently holds onto the assists record at West Seneca West in field hockey.
Cassie Ho joins Holani as the lone Hawaiians to play for the Griffs. Ho, like Holani, is a native of Honolulu. As a four-year letterman at Iolani High School, Ho was named as the team’s captain for three of her four varsity seasons. Like Barnett and Kreimann, Ho was a member of her school’s honor roll.
Chelsea Czapkowski aided her alma mater, Jackson Liberty, to their first ever Ocean County (N.J.) title. Czapkowski batted .434 in her senior season, driving home 21 runs. She earned the tournament MVP in the Ocean County tournament before advancing to the Shore Conference Tournament, where Jackson Liberty lost in the semifinals. The native of Toms River can also play the outfield.
Brittany Sockwell comes from Pearland, Texas, while earning two varsity letters at Pearland High School. Sockwell concluded her high school career with a .400 batting average. The 5-foot-7 infielder also was a member of the National Honor Society.
Sad to see you go
Canisius, despite bringing in an onslaught of freshman, lost six players from last year’s team. An incoming freshman also left following the fall semester.
Outfielders Tori Nappo and Meghan Cuda, along with infielder Alexis Roman, were the trio that graduated from Canisius last spring. Pitcher Allie Block and catcher Madison Aston both transferred to play softball at their new institutions. Block is now attending Buffalo State, while Aston is at Colgate.
Incoming freshman Rachel Myers was slated to join the Griffs as the ninth freshman for 2017, but after the fall semester, Myers announced she was transferring to California University of Pennsylvania, where she will also play softball.
Arguably, the biggest loss for the Griffs this season is not having Jessica Berzins return. The Griffin’s inquiry to find the reason why the All-MAAC Second Team winner did not return this season was not fulfilled. Primarily the team’s center fielder, Berzins finished her junior campaign as the team’s second-best hitter, hitting .335, with two home runs while driving home 28 runs.
Start ‘em early
Canisius will begin their season tomorrow morning when the Griffs will partake in the Cleveland State University (CSU) Dome Invite. The Griffs will begin play in the invite at 10 a.m. against Cleveland State before playing Robert Morris at 3:30 p.m. The Griffs continue play in the invite on Sunday, playing Cleveland State again before facing Bowling Green at 1 p.m.
Come on over!
The Griffs have some marquee non-conference doubleheaders slated for later in the season. On March 29, Canisius will host the University of Buffalo for a doubleheader before hosting Syracuse in the middle portion of April. The Griffs played the Orange last year in Syracuse, losing both games by wide margins. Later in April, the Griffs will welcome Big Four rival St. Bonaventure to the Demske Sports Complex for a 2 p.m. start to the doubleheader. Canisius will also play St. Bonaventure in the First Pitch Classic, hosted by Charlotte University on Feb. 17.
Oh, the warmth
Canisius, along with the CSU Dome Invite and First Pitch Classic, will also in four other tournament-style series playing in warm weather states of South Carolina, Florida in early March before playing in Maryland during the middle portion of March. Canisius will also play against Florida State and Florida Gulf Coast on March 15 during their nine-day trip in the Sunshine State.
Welcome back to the MAAC
Canisius’ home conference schedule features games against Manhattan, Saint Peter’s, Marist, Quinnipiac, and Niagara. The Griffs travel to Fairfield, Iona, Siena, Rider, and Monmouth for road conference matchups.
Conference play will begin on April 1, when Canisius travels to Fairfield before playing Iona the following day. MAAC play will conclude on May 7 before the MAAC Tournament will be begin, being held at the conference’s top seed. The tournament will begin on May 10, before concluding on May 14.