NECC Observer

The student news website of Northern Essex Community College, Haverhill and Lawrence, Mass.

NECC Knights softball preparing for Spring 2015

The NECC Knights softball team is preparing for the second year in the program’s history, and their work has already begun this semester.  The Knights will be playing a short scrimmage season this fall, with practice through October and highlighted by two scrimmage games, one on Tuesday, Sept. 30, 2014 against New Hampshire Technical Institute and another the next day, Wednesday, Oct. 1, 2014 against Southern Maine.

Both games are home games for the Knights, in the softball field next to the Sport and Fitness Center on the Haverhill campus.

While the Knights would love to play more than two back-to-back scrimmage games this fall, that is all that is allowed by NJCAA protocol.  In addition, once practices end this fall, coach Robert Gillespie won’t be able to have team activities all winter.

However, many players on the softball team are planning to take part in a kickboxing club in order to stay fit over the winter break.  Coach Gillespie fully supports this, saying that he “would just like to see them stay active.”  Practice will begin again in mid-February, and more preparations for the main spring season will be made.

The first season in the program’s history was mainly a building year.  Unable to become a varsity team due to the uncertainty of fielding a full team, the Knights were classified as a club team, meaning they would not play a full schedule.  With the addition of terrible weather last spring, the Knights were only able to play nine games all season.  This year will be different, however.  The Knights have become a varsity squad this year, and coach Gillespie assures that they will play at least 20 games this spring season, a full schedule.

The Knights are certainly looking to be competitive this spring with nine returning players from the first year of the program.  In addition, Coach Gillespie has done a great job of recruiting, bringing in all-around talent like Tarah Reilly of North Reading, who Gillespie said, “has a great glove in the field and knows how to swing the bat.”  Coach Gillespie will be bringing in six or seven recruits to the Knights’ team this year, and he fully expects the team to be competitive.

Gillespie said, “we’ll really have a truer test with the scrimmage games this week, but we look good so far and I expect us to really compete this year.”

A big part of being competitive this season according to Gillespie is pitching.

“To me, pitching is huge.  We have a pitcher this year, which is what we were missing,”  said Gillespie.

The pitcher he is referring to is one of the new recruits that Gillespie has, Nodine Webster.  Webster, a Wells, Maine native, throws a lot of strikes and is “a legit pitcher” according to Gillespie.  He knows that the main problem last year was that the Knights had no good pitching, and it was almost entirely the reason they failed to win a game last year.

Gillespie hopes that with the additions of Webster and the other recruits, as well as his stock of returning players and a full offseason to get work in, the Knights are going to push forward in a big way this season.

Another way coach Gillespie hopes to improve this year is having a better mental approach to the game as a team, and playing the game with more flow and fluidity on the field.  He is convinced that this will certainly be improved as a result of their improved pitching staff and additions to the lineup.  These improvements will speed up the game for the Knights, keeping all the players ultra-focused and fully invested in each game.

Coach Gillespie is certainly happy with the improvements his team has made since the first season of the program, but he also knows that his work spreading the word about the softball team at Northern Essex is far from over.  Gillespie is always recruiting, telling prospective players about the advantages to not only playing softball at NECC, but also going to school there.

“I’m a firm believer in the community college system, so it’s easy for me to tell players about the advantages of coming here,”  said Gillespie.

He has also been spending time talking to high schools about the program, and pushing graduating seniors to come play for him.

Gillespie knows about the issues that some students have with playing sports in college, whether it’s other commitments such as a job or classes.  He would like to sit all of his players down with an academic advisor this winter so that they can work all of their class schedules in sync and have plenty of time for practice and games in the spring.