POUGHKEEPSIE, N.Y. – After a successful run in the 2013 season, the Marist softball team is looking to claim its second consecutive Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) Championship title and NCAA Tournament berth this year.

“We really feel like between the returning players and the freshmen that we’ve brought in that we can hit the ground running and hopefully pick up where we left off last season,” said Head Coach Joe Ausanio. “I think that the fact that the MAAC went to six teams (in the conference tournament), our odds are a little bit better getting to the championship. But once you get to the championship, anything can happen, anybody can win it in this conference. We’re certainly looking forward to defending our title.”

Last season, the Red Foxes boasted a 30-26 overall record, while posting a 10-6 conference record. Marist defeated second-seeded Fairfield in the MAAC Championship game 4-1. The team went on to drop two games in the first round of the NCAA Tournament against Oklahoma and Fordham.

To kick off this season, the Red Foxes were predicted to finish in first place within the conference, according to the MAAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll. Marist received 110 points in the poll to be the favored team for the Championship title.

“Like I told the team, we don’t sneak up on anyone anymore,” Ausanio said. “The hunter has become the hunted and it’s a lot harder to defend a championship, than it is to go out and win one. I think that while we are happy and feel honored to be picked by the coaches that we would be No. 1, we still know this is a very difficult conference. Any team in this conference can beat one another on any given day.”

Marist returns 11 of 16 letterwinners from last season, with 10 starters coming back to the lineup. The Red Foxes welcome four newcomers to the roster: pitcher Jayne Oberdorf (Greensburg, Pa.), catcher Rebecca Freeman (Robbinsville, N.J.), outfielder Janna Korak (Huntsville, Ala.), and infielder Jordynn Barrera (Clinton, Utah).

The 2014 season looks promising under the leadership of senior captain Alyssa Zahka (Lexington, Mass.). Last season, Zahka appeared in all 56 games making 55 starts for the Red Foxes. She finished the year with a team high .371 batting average, and had 63 hits during the season with 41 RBIs and eight home runs. Zahka was named to the All-MAAC Second Team as well as the All-Academic Team to conclude the 2013 season.

Also returning for the Red Foxes, sophomore Nicole Cheek (Simi Valley, Calif.) looks to add to the season, coming off a successful rookie season run. Last season, Cheek was named to the All-MAAC First Team, while also being named MAAC Rookie of the Year. She finished the season ranked eighth among freshman in home runs for Di­vision I programs. Cheek appeared in 55 games making 55 starts, while posting a .348 hitting average, which was third on the team. She led the team in home runs with 15, RBI’s with 52, triples with two, slugging percentage with a .663 average, total bases with 122 and at-bats with 184. Cheek finished second on the team with 64 hits and doubles with nine. In the MAAC Preseason Coaches’ Poll, Cheek was selected as the Co-Player of the Year, while also being named to the All-MAAC team as both an outfielder and designated player.

Also for the Red Foxes, sophomore Kyrsten Van Natta (Maplewood, N.J.) looks to assist Marist after finishing last season leading the team in stolen bases (15) and steal attempts (19), while being the only athlete to start and play in all 56 games. In 2013, Van Natta compiled a .266 hitting average, 26 runs, five homeruns and 20 RBI’s. Senior Aly Klemmer (Hamilton, N.J.) also returns from a season of a .316 batting average, posting 19 runs from 36 hits, seven homeruns and 20 RBI’s. Also for the team, sophomore Maureen Duddy (San Mateo, Calif.) returns after tallying a .311 batting average with 39 runs and 50 hits, as well as nine RBI’s last season.

Returning in the circle for the Red Foxes is senior Paige Lewis (Temecula, Calif.), junior Melanie White (Highlands Ranch, Colo.) and junior Janine Lalli (Eastchester, N.Y.). Also returning for the Red Foxes are sophomore Colleen McWilliams (Monrovia, Calif.), junior Taylor Kuzma (Freehold, N.J.), and senior Haley Birnbaum (Lido Beach, N.Y.).

Marist opens up its season at the Mercer Bear Classic in Georgia from February 28 through March 2. The Red Foxes season opener is set for 11 a.m. against IPFW on Friday.

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