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As of March 16, the Radford softball team has cruised to a 14-6 start to its 2016 campaign. Under new head coach Aileen Morales, the program is looking for its first winning season since 2012 and hopes to prove some people wrong along the way. The Tartan sat down with seniors Whitney Davis and Becky Mantel – two of the team’s heaviest hitters – to discuss the season, their coach, and one long-standing friendly rivalry between themselves.
The Tartan: As of this interview, you guys are 14-6 and just coming off of a doubleheader win against East Carolina. How is the team feeling about the season so far?
Whitney Davis: We love it. This year is just a complete 180 from last year.
Becky Mantel: We’re all back on the same track of loving the game. Wanting to be out playing every single day, going all out, and not having any doubt. We’re all ready to come every single game, every single practice. It’s fun again and we have a blast at practice.
TT: It was another down year last year [the team went 12-37 in 2015], so what’s the difference between this season and last season?
WD: I think it’s our outlook on things. We had a few bad seasons in the past and having another one kind of put us all down. We didn’t care really. This year we have new staff, new players and they’ve given us a different outlook on the game, taking it back to the basics and the fun of the game. Having fun every day and being great every day.
BM: Our coaches really bring the energy too. Coach Morales is constantly yelling at us like “Hey, why are you guys walking? Hustle, hustle, run faster.” She always has us moving. Her slogan is “Every day it’s a great day for softball”, even if it’s pouring rain. The coaching staff has higher standards for us than even we do.
TT: Coach Morales is the new head coach this year, how has the transition been under her from last season to this season?
BM: Super smooth.
WD: Very smooth. We met with her in the summer, she told us what she expects. She told us that last year was last year and to forget about it. She’s new, we’re new, it’s a new season. Let’s start fresh. And the fresh start has been phenomenal.
BM: One big thing for the seniors that she wanted was for us to be on board because the underclassmen look to us. If we weren’t on board with what she was doing, it could’ve gone wrong. But us as a senior class, we all talked and made sure we were on the same page and when we came in everything was good. We were open to everything and to learn her ways which made it easy.
TT: You are both seniors now, how have you been adjusting to your new leadership roles? Have you taken the lead of seniors before you or have you been trying to lead in your own way?
BM: We all have our own leading styles. Whitney and I are more aggressive, we definitely will tell you straight up that you need to get your stuff together. Casey [Burns] and Nia [Chiles] are more of someone you can talk to at the end of the day about your problems. Just don’t do that with me and Whitney [laughs]. We’re more like, if you had a bad day then accept it, get over it, move on. And all the seniors, I think we’d all agree we learned our different leadership styles and what we bring to the table, and that’s helped things run as smoothly as they have been.
TT: Looking at the team and its hot start, how far do you think you guys can go this season?
WD: I think the possibilities are endless for us. We’ve never started this well and we continue to beat teams that people expect us not to. Expect the unexpected with us. We push ourselves really hard and we practice how we play, which makes the game easier for us. We can go as far as we want.
BM: A lot of people, like she said, aren’t expecting us to beat certain teams and we’re coming out and proving them wrong. That’s what we really wanted to do this year. And we really want people to come out and watch us and show them what we have, what we’re bringing to the table.
TT: Okay, so I’ve heard, and I don’t know if this is true, I’ve heard about some sort of home run competition between you two…
WD: It started our sophomore year. She hits one, and then I’m like “forget this I’m hitting one.”
BM: And now I have to hit one…
WD: We’re always one away from each other.
BM: It’s always back and forth. It’s always funny because after one of us hits one, the other is like, are you kidding me? I had the lead and now she just took it. But it’s been such a friendly competition that we’ve had for so long.
WD: Yeah, there’s no pressure with it or anything.
BM: Yeah, and when she hits a home run I’m always the first person she sees coming to home plate because I’m so excited that she hit a home run and she does the same for me. We’re so supportive of each other and we want each other to hit home runs.
WD: And when the underclassmen see our competition it pushes them.
BM: Yeah it pushes them too and they want to carry it on.
TT: So who’s winning?
BM: She is this season. But we’re tied for our careers [As of this interview, Davis has four home runs this season while Mantel has three. However, Davis and Mantel both have 26 career home runs, good for 7th all-time in program history]. I get on base for her so that she can drive me in, that’s how it goes. I get on base and she gets the RBI’s. I mostly get solo home runs. But she hits, of course, the grand slam.
TT: Well I was going to ask about that. Whitney, you hit the grand slam yesterday against East Carolina, have you ever thought about doing a grand slam competition?
WD: I have two grand slams.
BM: Yeah she has two already. I’ve never hit one.
TT: Well you bat second so it’s harder for you to get one.
BM: Yeah, I never get the opportunities she gets. But it’s whatever, my job is to get on base, so I’ll just stick with the solo home runs [laughs].