When JMU softball begins its season Feb. 15, the Dukes will be out of state for nearly a month as they travel to three different states and play 17 teams before their home opener in Harrisonburg. While no team wants to spend the first month of its season without a home-field advantage, JMU uses the long bus rides to build team chemistry and learn how to handle the responsibilities of being a student athlete.
“That’s something I look forward to,” redshirt senior pitcher/infielder Megan Good said. “With softball it’s something that I use to kind of explore and see different things while almost at the same time being on business trip, so I think it’s really cool.”
Every year, the Dukes start their season with a month-long tour of invitationals across the country, adapting to the warm weather before returning to Veterans Memorial Park in the middle of March. Playing in warmer weather helps energize the team in hopes to have them ready for warmer days in the ‘Burg.
“Being that it’s been so cold here, going to Florida is going to be a shock to their bodies,” head coach Loren LaPorte said. “We had our nutritionist come in to talk to our team about what snacks to pack, how to stay hydrated and why to stay hydrated. When we get down there, it’s going to be 85 degrees. The good thing is on that Thursday before we play, we’re going to practice in it, so they kind of get used to the heat.”
To pass the time in between pit stops, the Dukes will watch movies, listen to music and sing to grow together as a unit. The upperclassmen bond with the freshmen by helping them with school work and hosting a freshman singing competition that’s held in front of the rest of the players.
As student athletes, the players have to balance academics and softball while moving from city to city. The team has a system in place for the players to take care of their academics that includes study sessions on the team bus and an academic adviser with the team.
“I personally do my stuff beforehand, if I know I’m going to miss a test I get with my professor early and I take it early,” junior utility Kate Gordon said. “Most of the professors will let us take it later, even on the road. We’ll have an academic adviser be with us and they’ll monitor the test.”
The coaches will help mentor their players on proper traveling techniques and how to manage several tasks while on a busy schedule. The team also has a buddy system to make sure the players have everything they need before they go on the road.
“It is a business trip, so all of our girls get an itinerary of everything we’re doing every hour, pretty much of the day,” LaPorte said. “It’s pretty much laid out for them. They usually get the itinerary two or three days before the trip, everybody’s on the same page knowing what they’re going to be doing each day.”
For the newest batch of softball players, this first road trip can seem like a daunting task while still adjusting to the move from high school to college. With the help of their upperclassmen teammates, however, the freshmen will have an early chance to get acclimated to the rest of their teammates.
“I think it’s a really good bonding experience for all of us, especially the freshmen since we’ve never really traveled really far with the rest of the players,” freshman outfielder Lexi Lomax said.
The coaches emphasize that the purpose of the trips is to take care of business and focus on softball. While they make take a break along the way to sightsee, they make sure to return to Harrisonburg with good grades and a winning record, which is priority No. 1.
“We’re really big into routine and structure,” LaPorte said. “It is a business trip, we’re not there to explore. Now there are situations where we take our girls to explore the city. When we go to Arizona, we’ll go to the Sedona rocks on our off day. But when we are going on a weekend trip, it’s strictly business.”
Contact Jason Clampitt at email@example.com. For more softball coverage, follow the sports desk on Twitter @TheBreezeSports.