Marist senior outfielder Brianna Brown can’t help but look at the RedHawks’ schedule and feel a bit sad.
As she works out individually at home under the shelter-in-place order, she checks things off day by day.
“It’s sad that I’m not playing with my team. You say, ‘Oh, we were supposed to play Fenwick.’ ‘We were supposed to play Andrew,’” Brown said. “It’s sad to think of.”
However, for Brown and her teammates, the RedHawks aren’t pouting. They’re staying positive with the hope of a condensed regular season and postseason starting potentially in late April and running into May and June.
Marist finished fourth in Class 4A last season, ending with a 36-4 record.
“Your senior year, that’s the year of ‘lasts,’” Brown said. “Stepping out on the field, wearing the uniform, we’re looking forward to it. We’re staying positive and hoping for the best.”
The RedHawks lost six seniors from last year’s state team, but Brown is one of a handful of returning players that Coach Colleen Phelan’s squad is ready to build around.
Brown (.396 batting average, 33 runs) is a four-year varsity player and University of Pennsylvania recruit.
“There are some people who thought that we were probably rebuilding,” Phelan said. “With the amount of talent we have back, I don’t foresee that. We’re going to be fast, very fast.”
Last year’s team combined for 53 home runs, led by Angela Zedak’s 22 and Lexi Voss’ 13. With Zedak now at Northwestern and Voss at Michigan, things have changed for Marist.
The RedHawks won’t be waiting for one big hit. They’ll be playing small ball: getting on, getting over and scoring runs with their team speed.
“That first week of practice, we were working a lot on hit-and-run, stolen bases and just being a very aggressive base-running team,” Phelan said. “We were making some strong strides.”
The team members have kept up their practices while working out individually. Phelan debuted a March Madness-type tournament where players are grouped with teammates.
Daily workouts range from offense to defense, weight room to conditioning, and all earn players points toward a prize at the end of the competition.
“It’s a good way to hold us all accountable,” said junior second baseman Maggie O’Brien. “We’re all keeping track of our practices and working as hard as we can so we’re all ready when the season comes around.”
Junior shortstop Easton Lotus (.492 BA, 51 runs) and junior outfielder Kali Case (.436 BA, 35 runs, 26 RBI) will be key players for the RedHawks.
Junior Abby Dunning, senior Mia Crotty and sophomore Brooke McNichols give Phelan plenty of options in the pitching circle. Throwing behind Zedak (21-1, 0.92 ERA, 115 strikeouts) last year, Dunning still pitched in 28 games, going 13-1 with a 1.13 ERA and 174 strikeouts in just 99 innings.
“We have some very strong pitching and a couple aces that we can throw out there,” Phelan said. “Our defense is going to be insanely good, and we can score with our speed.”
O’Brien was a super-utility player last season for the RedHawks, seeing plenty of time as a pinch-runner. She likely slots in this year as the starting second baseman.
With last year’s strong senior class now gone, O’Brien knows the team isn’t just looking to replace their seniors. All the RedHawks need to step up and be a leader.
“We have hitters who can be really big hitters, but they’re fast, too. It’s the best kind of double trouble,” O’Brien said. “It’s a completely different team. We’re fast, and we’re young. The mindset is the same, though. We have the talent, and we want to make it to state.”
O’Brien is a University of Nebraska-Omaha recruit.
Sophomore Emily Bojan (Mt. Greenwood, Queen of Martyrs) is another player who figures into the mix at a variety of positions. Bojan could see time at catcher, first and third base.
Also expected to be an important player for Marist is senior Anna Lipinski, an Eastern Illinois recruit. Lipinski will play catcher and at the corner infield positions.
With the chance for this team to leave a mark of its own, Brown can’t wait for the opportunity.
“We’re very excited for the year,” Brown said. “It’ll be a different look. It’s a different dynamic, and that’s great. We might not crush teams with closer games, but it’s a new element. I’m proud of the focus we’ve had. We want to start off strong.”