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Softball team swapping snow and wind for sunshine and breeze of Florida

Softball player in batting cage
Freshman catcher Rachel Lojas connects off the pitching machine in the indoor batting cage in the Athletics Center. The Lady Lions will face live pitching March 4 when they open the preseason schedule in Florida.
2/25/2013 —



With western Pennsylvania coping with the winter mix weather cycle of snow-rain-ice, the Penn State New Kensington softball team is breaking out the shorts and sunscreen and heading to sunny Florida.
The New Kensington Lady Lions begin spring training March 4, in Orlando, Fla., with preseason practices and games. While the 32-degree weather keeps other Pittsburgh teams inside, the 72-degree climate on the east coast of central Florida gives coach Mike Marsili's squad its first chance to play outside.

"Going south will give the players as much field time as possible before we have to face conference opponents,” said Marsili, beginning his fifth season as head coach. “The outfielders can actually shag fly balls, and we can face live pitching instead of hitting off of the machine.”

During January and February, Marsili had the team doing its conditioning, fielding, and hitting in the Athletics Center. The squad worked out in the weight room, fielded grounders in the gymnasium, and took swings inside the batting cage. In addition, pitchers threw on the sidelines while position players executed defensive drills.
"We can only do so much in the gym, so I'll be excited to get them on the field and see what they can do," said Marsili, a resident of Vandergrift. "The Florida schedule gives the coaches an opportunity to analyze players' strengths and determine their positions."

The team will spend a five days in Florida and will play seven preseason games against Anna Maria College from Massachusetts, Finlandia University from Michigan, Coe College from Iowa, and St. Vincent College and Susquehanna University from Pennsylvania. The schedule is not all diamond-related as it provides time for a waterpark adventure and a trip to Disney World. And in keeping with the spirit of the campus' spring break, which coincides with the Florida excursion, the players will also have some beach time.

“We want everyone to have a good time and get to know their new teammates,” said Marsili, who guided the squad to the playoffs last year. “I hope to use the Florida experience to get off to a fast start like last year.”

Myrtle Beach was the preseason destination in 2012. The trip helped jump start the New Kensington Lady Lions to a 9-1 record en route to the semifinals of the Penn State University Athletic Conference playoffs.  The team finished with an 11-7 PSUAC record and in third place after a 6-6 campaign and sixth place in 2011.

“In Myrtle Beach, we beat some teams that we didn't expect to beat and were competitive in the games we lost,” Marsili said. “We had confidence coming back north, and it propelled us to the playoffs.”

After spring break, classes begin March 11 and that means back to indoor workouts. The New Kensington Lady Lions will have a week to adapt to Pittsburgh's version of March weather before opening the season at 3 p.m., Tuesday, March 19, with a non-conference game at Carlow University in Pittsburgh. Marsili hopes the team's home field at Wolf Pack Park in Lower Burrell will be playable for the home opener March 24. "We have had so much snow, the fields will take a long time to dry out," said Marsili. "I scheduled Carlow as an away game because they have synthetic turf field."

Marsili is a certified coach and conducts numerous clinics throughout the year. His assistant, Brian Eshbaugh, was the head coach of the Lady Lions for three years, 2002-05. Eshbaugh guided New Kensington to two PSUAC championships.

For the full softball schedule, visit http://psnkathletics.com/sports/sball/2012-13/schedule online.

Lady Lions indoor practice
Pitcher Tarra Oravec and catcher Rachel Lojas warm up as coach Bob White hits grounders to infielders.
The Athletics Center is indispensable as indoor practice is a necessity because of the caprious western Pennsylvania weather.

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