TALLAHASSEE, Fla. – Alex Powers has a message for any would-be car-parkers on Florida State’s campus: Watch out for fly balls.
The Florida State softball team held its first practice on Tuesday, and, with a roster that returns 16 players from last year’s Women’s College World Series run, that could spell danger for windshields in the parking lot beyond the right-field wall at JoAnne Graf Field.
Then again, the Seminoles could be far more dangerous to college softball teams around the nation.
FSU fell just inches short of the championship round of last year’s WCWS, and the Seminoles expect to be even better this season.
They return both the ACC player of the year (Powers, a fifth-year senior first baseman) and pitcher of the year (fifth-year senior Jessica Burroughs), as well as their top slugger (junior Jessica Warren, 20 home runs in 2016) and base-stealer (junior Morgan Klaevemann, 53 stolen bases).
Add in a talented crop of six freshmen, and it’s no wonder that coach Lonni Alameda said that there’s an energy surrounding this team unlike any she has seen before.
“This is probably the best we’ve been, 1 through 21, right now in this program,” said Alameda, who is set to begin her ninth season in Tallahassee. “We’ve got experience in every position, we have depth in every position. We just have great maturity.”
As a result, the Seminoles aren’t shy about their goals for the 2017 campaign. They expect to return to the Women’s College World Series. And, this time, they expect to win a national title.
“This year, it’s in our bones,” Burroughs said. “We’re going back. We’re winning a national championship. That’s kind of how we’re living right now.”
However, that doesn’t mean that the Seminoles expect to just show up and cruise to Oklahoma City.
They used their fall camp to refine their skills and help usher in newcomers – two pitchers and four position players – who could help push the team over the top.
And they culminated their fall season by participating in The Program, a grueling fitness boot camp designed by former service members and athletes.
The Program’s website says that it focuses on “personal development, leadership development and team building through shared adversity.”
Upon completion of The Program, the Seminoles received a wooden oar, upon which is written a few of the team’s mottos from the experience: “Spark,” “Focus” and “Get big.”
They’re the kinds of sentiments that could prove useful over the course of a grueling season that can easily extend past 60 games. And if the Seminoles ever need a reminder of them, they can get one every time they look up and to their right from the home dugout on the first-base line: The oar now hangs above the fence that the Seminoles walk through on their way to the field.
“The paddle represents our journey at The Program and how much we learned,” Burroughs said. “A representation of the fight, the team-building, the character that came from it.”
Speaking of character, Alameda believes her team built plenty at the end of last season.
As much as the Seminoles achieved in 2016 – 55 wins, a third straight ACC tournament championship and a deep run at the WCWS – they finished the year on a painful note.
FSU was eliminated by Auburn, 8-7, in extra innings after tying the game with a dramatic, three-run home run in the top of the seventh. A fielding error led to Auburn’s game-winning run in the eighth inning, and the Seminoles fell just inches short of the WCWS championship round.
Alameda is relentlessly positive, but she doesn’t mind if her players use that difficult memory to push them forward.
“We use that a ton. We talk about it a ton,” Alameda said. “You’ve got to be courageous enough to put it out there, because you’re going to fail and you’re going to succeed.
“We got a taste of it. It’s like a really good dinner and you want to go back.”