Jaspers hope to prove they don’t need Elena

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The Manhattan College softball team has just completed a doubleheader sweep of Hartford at Gaelic Park, and though it was still early in the season, the Jaspers looked like they were picking up where they left off last season.

And what a season it was as they won 30 games in a season for the first time since 1993 and set a school record for wins in the Metro Atlantic Athletic Conference (MAAC) with 14 victories. And they did it all while being led by arguably the greatest softball player to pass through Manhattan in its history in Elena Bowman. Bowman closed out her storied career with the Jaspers as the school’s all-time leader in home runs (52) while finishing second in all-time RBIs (154) and becoming one of just three players in history to surpass 200 career hits.

So why does Manhattan head coach Tom Pardalis want to keep the Bowman talk to a minimum? The man has his reasons.

“I consciously wanted to avoid talking about her because I didn’t want them to be saying, ‘Oh we’re missing Elena,’” said Pardalis, how in his eighth season as head coach. “Elena was such a huge part of our program but I don’t want to get back to always talking about Elena because she’s gone. She was huge for our program. She put us on the map, she really did. But that’s why we need to stay away from talking about her. We really didn’t bring up her name because it was important that these guys got their own identity.”

The identity the Jaspers are carving out for themselves so far this season is one of a team that will go as far as its pitching and defense will take it — and that may be a long way. Pardalis smiled when asked about the prospects for this team, one that has an abundance of youth along with a small mix of veterans who have been through the MAAC wars.  

“Yeah we’re going to be good. We got good pitching,” Pardalis said.

What they also have is a winning mindset that comes from the success the program has enjoyed over the past several seasons and a lot of that, even if Pardalis doesn’t want to talk about it, comes from the leadership provided by Bowman. It’s an attitude that senior catcher Jenn Vazquez, the Jaspers new leader, says remains with the program even in Bowman’s absence.

“We’ve had four years of good softball here, starting with a MAAC Championship in my freshman year,” Vazquez said. “We’ve competed every year, including finishing second last year, and Elena taught us that winning mentality. We learned from all the big moments of the past to just breathe and relax and to just compete every day and that’s what Jaspers softball is. That’s something that me and the other two seniors [Stephanie Reinhardt and Danielle Gabriel] want to pass on to the kids below us.”

Talent does abound up and down the roster, even if most of it is young. Pardalis was particularly excited about a couple of freshman pitchers he has in his stable in Kayla McDermott and Nicole Williams, who is still nursing an ankle injury. There is also frosh first baseman Christine Gebhardt who he says “hits the heck out of the ball” along with a very talented sophomore class that includes Kat Prevo, Alexa Dawid, Lauren Pitney and Morgan Cole.  And then there is junior pitcher Briana Matazinsky who Pardalis calls “our heart and soul.”

And on a team looking for a veteran presence to replace she who will not be named, Vazquez is excited to be the next Jaspers leader.

“I like being out there every game and I like being behind the plate and working with our pitchers every day,” Vazquez said. “We have two very good freshmen in Kayla and Chrissy and our whole starting outfield is all sophomores. l like working with them and I lead by example and I enjoy doing that.”

So while no one is expecting a repeat of a 30-win season or matching last season’s 14 conference wins, Vazquez said don’t sleep on these Jaspers. No Bowman? No problem. There is sufficient talent for another stellar season at Manhattan.

“I think we have all the right pieces,” Vazquez said. “Coach brings in good people who are even better players. I think it’s important that everyone he brings in wants to contribute to what we do here. So you look at the 30-win season and the school record for MAAC wins and that’s something that you want to chase and do again.”

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