LAKE BUENA VISTA, Fla. - The Saint Joseph's softball team opens the 2019 season this Friday at the Citrus Blossom Classic as the Hawks look to establish themselves as one of the top teams in the Atlantic 10 this year. Saint Joseph's opens play this Friday against Providence at 11 a.m. before taking on Stetson at 1:30 p.m., with live stream available for every game of the tournament.

Coming off a 24-25 campaign that included a seventh place finish in the conference a season ago, second year head coach Erin Brooks is optimistic about this year's team and the future of the Hawks. 

"I want to compete and determine what kind of program this is going to be ... to be more of a contender in the Atlantic 10," Brooks said.

Helping the Hawks to the A-10 Championship their first two seasons, the senior class of Amanda Kulp, Taryn Grober, Amanda Kulp and Ashley Ventura will anchor this year's squad and look to cap their four-year careers in the postseason once again.

Saint Joseph's all-time leader in stolen bases (64), Kulp enters the season 35th all-time in career hits with 143. A two-time A-10 All-Conference selection, the starting centerfielder is looking to bounce back from a junior campaign in which she missed nine games due to injury, but still managed to hit .320 and rank third on the team in runs (21).

One of the top pitchers in the Atlantic 10 the past three years, Ventura topped the team in almost every major pitching category in 2018 as she went 13-15, ranked second in innings pitched (177.0), tied for second in complete games (14) and finished seventh in strike outs (108). Already fifth all-time in career starts (82), appearances (104), innings pitched (528.1) and saves (five) at SJU, Ventura enters the season within the program top-five for wins (42) and strike outs (363).

Staples in the infield, both Grober and Mayer earned A-10 All-Academic Team recognition as juniors. Three-year starters, both are close to etching their names in the Hawks' record books for 100 career hits as they enter the season with 89 career hits apiece.

With a proven core of leaders in the senior class, Brooks believes that it's her upperclassmen that will help push the team's success this year.

"We need to have a veteran presence. They need to get focused real fast and figure out what they want out of the season and legacy they want to leave," Brooks said of the seniors.

A strong class of six juniors has played a key role in the Hawks' success over the past two years, with Molly Kapala and Sarah Ostaszewski both coming off All-Conference honors.

An A-10 All-Conference First Team selection and All-ECAC Second Team member, Kapala is coming off a career year in which she led Saint Joseph's in average (.350), hits (56), runs scored (33), doubles (12), slugging (.513) and multi-hit games (15) and finished second on the team in on-base percentage (.431), RBI (29) and home runs (four). 

A two-year starter behind the plate, Ostaszewski captured A-10 All-Conference Second Team accolades last year as she led the team in walks (23) and ranked second in runs scored (22) and hits (46) and fourth in average (.315) and RBI (20).

Caela Abadie has added power in the middle of the Hawks' lineup the past two seasons as she led the team in home runs (seven) and RBIs (32) last year, while Jancarla Herrera has been a consistent presence in the corner outfield spot and returns for her junior campaign healthy after battling through injuries in 2018. Starting 12 games and appearing in 27, Ashley Hession will play a key role as she challenges for a starting nod, with Ashley Stokes adding depth to the bullpen.

Named to the Atlantic 10 All-Rookie Team in 2018, Kirstin Cox leads a quartet of sophomores returning. Pacing all SJU rookies in hits (37), runs (19), average (.330) and stolen bases (nine) last year, Cox second on the team in average and steals and fifth in runs scored.

Appearing in 31 games with 27 starts, Taylor Marinelli's flexibility at multiple spots will be relied upon again in 2019, with Mackenzie Macchiarulo supplying depth on the bench.

Leading SJU in ERA (2.91) while going 4-3, Chelsea Evans will look to build off a solid freshman season that included a no-hitter versus La Salle.

Adding both youth and talent to this year's team are freshmen Amanda Herr, Jordan Hinkle, Michelle McMillan, Carlie Mertz and Carly Rybinski, while in the dugout, new assistant coach Gina McCool brings three years of success at Army West Point to Hawk Hill.

With a core group of veterans returning and a skilled group of underclassmen making up the team, Brooks feels this year the Hawks are better set to compete for the a spot in the A-10 Championship than in the past.

"Thinking about the changes we’ve made just in the last six months," Brooks said. "I think we’re more of a well-rounded team."

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