Often tabbed among the CAA's bottom tier, the Seahawks find themselves facing higher expectations
Kelsey Bryan has always expected UNCW softball to be successful.
The senior shortstop came to Wilmington to help build the beleaguered program up. It has taken time, but the hard work has led to big success.
Now, others are putting expectations on the team.
When the 2018 CAA preseason poll came out in late January, the Seahawks were picked to finish fourth among the league’s eight teams, a far cry from the predicted seventh-place finish issued last season.
“I think it kind of gives us a higher standard to play at,” the reigning CAA Defensive Player of the Year said. “Being fourth is sort of setting that bar high for us, like we don’t have to set it high for ourselves. Now, people expect it and we expect it of ourselves too.”
Coming off a school record 35-win season, a fourth-place finish in the CAA and the program’s first berth in a postseason tournament, UNCW finds itself in uncharted territory. Over the last seven years, the Seahawks were predicted to finish among the bottom two teams in CAA play. It’s been a decade since UNCW was expected to finish outside of the league’s bottom three.
When coach Kristy Norton took the program over six seasons ago, she had a vision for where things could go. She asked players to put in a lot of hard work and trust what she was doing, knowing that the rewards might not come instantly.
“There’s really no replacing the fact that everyone around them, outside of our team, outside of our coaching staff, now has a feeling that we’ve really started to do things that we set out to do,” Norton said. “For them to do all that and make the program look successful, the shout out goes to them in every sense of the word.”
While the program has come a long ways, the journey is far from over.
James Madison and Hofstra are still the league frontrunners, receiving 48 and 43 points. Charleston, which got 35 points, is just ahead of UNCW with 29. The difference between the fourth-place Seahawks and fifth-place Elon was only three points.
UNCW is no longer expected to be at the bottom of the CAA standings looking up. But a middle of pack finish isn’t where the Seahawks see themselves.
“We’ve been using that as fuel. Where last year we used that seventh-place pick as fuel, this fourth-place pick is also fuel for us to do better than that,” UNCW pitcher Sarah Davis said. She was second team All-CAA last year. “I think we’re kind of taking the same mentality we had last year, expect with a little more experience and knowing we can do this.”
– Reporter Alex Riley can be reached at 910-343-2034 or Alex.Riley@StarNewsOnline.com.