As the Patriot softball team’s season moves into full-swing, the team is confident and expects success.

“My expectations are probably the highest they’ve ever been,” said senior outfielder Stephanie Strother. Junior infielder Tori Dudley, equally enthusiastic, agreed, saying, “I’m definitely expecting to go to the CAA Tournament.”

Their optimism is due in part to the 14 returning players from last season. “We’re returning our entire infield,” said Dudley. “We have some experience behind our belts now.”

The benefits of experience are evident in the team’s steady improvement. In 2009, the Patriots only won two conference games (16-33, 2-19) and finished eighth overall. In 2010, the Patriots won nine conference games (21-24, 9-12) and finished fifth in the conference. They hope to improve even more this season.

Head coach Joe Verbanic attributes the team’s improvement to the players. “They’ve embraced the things that I’m teaching and they’ve worked really, really hard and they continue to get better every single day.”

However, it is not just the upperclassmen who are contributing. The team has eight freshmen who are playing a large part in the team’s development.

“They’ve been a great addition,” said Verbanic. “They’ve brought a lot of energy and they’re a talented bunch who have really challenged and pushed our older kids to play and excel at a higher level.”

Dudley added that, “The freshmen have taken it upon themselves to step-in and they’ve played a big role in challenging us.”

Ultimately, the team hopes the combination of experience, talent and motivation will translate into success on the field.

“The program is growing,” said Verbanic. “When I came here six years ago, we were really building from scratch, but the kids’ hard work is really starting to show. They’ve worked their tails off, and have made themselves into a good ball club and good players. ”

The Patriots will have several chances to prove themselves in various tournaments such as the Patriot Classic, the Mason Invitational and the Cherry Blossom Classic before they enter into conference play on March 26 against Delaware.