Amanda Marra waits for a pitch against in an exhi­bition game during the fall. (Julia Mullins | Col­legian)

The Hillsdale College Chargers will travel more than one thousand miles from Michigan to kick off their regular season tomorrow at the pres­ti­gious National Fast­pitch Coaches Asso­ci­ation Leadoff Classic in Clear­water, Florida.

The Chargers’ season opener is against Lenoir-Rhyne Uni­versity at 10:00 a.m. on Friday, fol­lowed by a noon game against West Chester Uni­versity. On Sat­urday, Hillsdale takes on the Uni­versity of Indi­anapolis at 10:00 a.m. and the Uni­versity of North Georgia at 2:30 p.m. The weekend will wrap up with a 9:00 a.m. clash against Eckerd College on Sunday.

Though all five of Hillsdale’s games come against non-con­ference oppo­nents, the quality of com­pe­tition the Chargers will be up against is high. North Georgia is ranked third in NCAA Division II, while West Chester is ranked eighth, and Lenoir-Rhyne is ranked 19th. While Hillsdale is unranked, it was selected to finish fourth in the G-MAC this season after winning the G-MAC tour­nament and qual­i­fying for the national tour­nament in 2018.

After days of sub-zero tem­per­a­tures in Michigan, junior catcher Syd San Juan said the team will need to work on preparing men­tally.

“It’s really easy when it’s cold outside to get into the off­season men­tality,” San Juan said. “In reality, we’ll be in Florida soon, and we need to get focused and game-ready.”

Despite the cold, senior infielder Jessica Taylor said the team’s hitting improved sig­nif­i­cantly throughout the winter.

“It’s very cool that head coach Kyle [Gross} puts us in a lot of under-the-gun hitting, even com­pared to last year, we hit a lot more in the fall and winter seasons than we really ever have,” Taylor said. “I think our offense is gonna be fan­tastic just right outta the gun. I’ve never seen that in the past four years.”

Taylor also said she’s excited about playing alongside the team’s freshmen.

“The freshmen have def­i­nitely grown in knowing our team dynamic and how they fit into that dynamic and how they’re gonna be leaders,” Taylor said. “It’s cool to see them find their niche on the team.”

In addition to finding their comfort zone, Taylor said she thinks the freshmen will make a big impact on the team’s offense.

“They’re gonna jump into college pitching and be 20 times better than I was as a freshman because we never hit so much in the fall and winter as we have this season,” Taylor said. “I think it’s good for them to start off their college career that way.”

In addition to a pow­erful offense, Gross said the team has a strong pitching staff.

“This year will be more of a staff versus a single ace pitcher,” Gross said. “It’ll be more of a staff because they’ve all pro­gressed and developed since the fall.”

Junior pitcher Dana Wei­dinger said she feels more relaxed and con­fident going into this season because of Gross’ approach to pitching.

“Since coach Kyle has came on, it’s been very dif­ferent from what our past coaches have said about pitching,” Wei­dinger said. “Coach Kyle is more inter­active with how to set up hitters, and he’s charting and clocking us more often than coaches have in the past.”

Wei­dinger also said the pitching staff has come together and feels like a family.

“The staff is gonna be a lot better than it ever has been,” Wei­dinger said. “We really work well together, and we’re gonna win a lot of games.”

The pitching staff will consist of returning sophomore Natalie Walters and freshmen Camryn Olson and Julia Sayles. Sayles had surgery shoulder last year, but said she is looking forward to finally pitching this season.

“I’m just excited to get onto the field with our new team of girls this year,” Sayles said. “I think it’ll be a lot fun to work with all the new girls and also see all the returners playing again.”

Gross said one of the chal­lenges he will face going into the season will be finding the right balance between the com­bi­nation of players out on the field.

Although the Chargers have a tough schedule to begin their season, Gross said he isn’t going to focus too much on ranked oppo­nents.

“We have to play our game, and that’s gonna be our mantra,” Gross said. “We have to focus on what we do well and con­tinue to try to do that well, rather than focus on how good our oppo­nents are.”