Big Green Took Big Step: Dartmouth Returning Satisfied … For Now
Dartmouth pitcher Kristen Rumley delivers a pitch for a strike during the Big Green's NCAA Tournament game against San Diego State on Saturday in Tempe, Ariz. The Big Green saw its tournament run end with an 8-0 loss to the Aztecs. Bruce Yeung photograph
Dartmouth's Chloe Madill swings at a pitch from Arizona State pitcher Dallas Escobedo during Friday's opening NCAA loss to the Sun Devils. Bruce Yeung photograph
Dartmouth teammates cheer on second baseman Kara Curosh during a Saturday at-bat against San Diego State. Bruce Yeung photograph
Tempe, Ariz. — Unfortunately for the Dartmouth College softball team, its remarkable run to the Tempe Regional of the NCAA Tournament came to a grinding halt on Saturday night at Farrington Stadium following an 8-0 second-day defeat to San Diego State.
But as Big Green coach Rachel Hanson and her players took their seats in front of the podium afterwards, a sense of optimism and pride filled the room. While the outcome may have been disappointing, the experience and momentum now behind the Dartmouth softball program signal that better days are on the horizon for this group.
“I’m proud of this team, proud of the way we battled our guts out in both of these games,” said Hanson. “This is by far the best season in school history, and this is the team we wanted to do it with. From start to finish, they battled and competed. For us now, we know what we need to do. We need to get better and get back here. That is the new bar that’s been set. We’ve seen the level of competition, and we know what we need to do to get back.”
After beginning the season just 2-7, Dartmouth (31-19, 18-2 Ivy League) closed out the year by winning 21 of its final 25 games, including three straight over Harvard for a second consecutive North Division title. The Big Green moved on to take two of three games against Penn, securing the program’s first Ivy League championship and NCAA postseason appearance.
Dartmouth’s 18 conference wins also set a new record for the program, and its 31 total wins are second-best in school history, just one shy of equaling the mark set by the 2000 team.
For their efforts, the Big Green earned a spot in the Tempe Regional, along with host and fourth-ranked Arizona State, San Diego State and Michigan.
Dartmouth dropped its first postseason game 8-0 to ASU on Friday night after a six-run fifth inning, highlighted by a two-run walk-off homer by first baseman Nikki Girard that sparked the Sun Devils’ offensive attack and ended the Big Green’s night early via the NCAA’s eight-run rule.
Big Green starting pitcher Kristen Rumley showed no signs of a let down on Saturday against San Diego State, retiring the first six batters she faced before running into trouble in the third inning when a Kayla Jordan three-run home run put the Aztecs ahead. SDSU added four more runs in fourth and another in sixth, completing the 8-0 win and eliminating Dartmouth from the postseason tournament.
“It was surreal,” said Dartmouth sophomore Brianna Lohmann on the team’s first postseason experience following its loss Saturday night. “It’s one thing you hope for as a kid, but once you get to college you realize, ‘Okay, this is going to be a lot harder than I thought it was going to be.’ Last year we worked hard, and this year we worked harder.
“We really, really wanted this, and the whole team just came together and we all earned this. We all worked so hard, and it was a great experience to be able to share with my teammates and my coaches. I wouldn’t want to be here with anyone else.”
It’s been a journey for the Big Green, one that started four years ago when athletic director Harry Sheehy hired Hanson away from the University of Dallas after five seasons to lead the softball program at Dartmouth. Hanson won just 31 total games during her first two seasons in Hanover, but she also laid the foundation for what she expects to be continued future success for the program.
“It’s been a fun journey,” she said. “It’s been part of the plan. We knew where we wanted to be, and we knew where wanted to end up. My seniors did a great job of really leading the charge and getting us here. I’m very proud of them and how they led this team this year and the previous years as well, but the plan’s not done.
“This was kind of the first rung on the ladder — to win an Ivy League championship and to get here. Now I think we know where the bar is, so it’s time to take some more steps in that direction.”
Not only do the Big Green have a coach with a clear plan for the future, but also an abundance of talent to help lead the way. Dartmouth was the second-youngest squad in the 64-team postseason field with just two juniors and a pair of seniors. The latter consisted of second baseman Kara Curosh, who was named to the All-Ivy second team this season, and catcher Alex St. Romain.
“Kara was such a huge part of this team this year and really pushed everyone on and did a phenomenal job as a captain, and that’s going to be tough to replace,” said Hanson. “And the production, obviously, leading off for us for most of the year and playing great at second base. And then Alex calling behind the plate: She’s one of the better callers of the game that I’ve seen, and she does a great job of leading both on and off the field.
“No doubt they’ll be hard to replace, but that’s part of being a coach and playing the game. We’ll miss them, but the goal is to always keep improving.”
While the contributions from Curosh and St. Romain will be difficult to replicate, Dartmouth welcomes back three All-Ivy first team honorees next season, including the league’s pitcher of the year in Rumley and Ivy player of the year Morgan McCalmon.
The sophomore McCalmon set a school record batting .389 while becoming the first Dartmouth player to win top player honors since the award was established in 1985.
Rumley became the third Ivy League player to ever win pitcher of the year honors in back-to-back seasons after posting an 18-7 record with a 1.86 ERA. The junior set a new school mark, recording 193 strikeouts in 2014, eight better than she did the previous season. She also ranked 10th nationally in fewest walks allowed, yielding just 24 bases on balls in 1771⁄3 innings pitched.
“We’ve just got to continue doing what we’ve been doing,” remarked Hanson. “Recruiting’s a big component of that, to bring in a high level of athlete and continuing to expect more. (The players) expect a lot of each other and have high standards for excellence. What I love about this team is that it’s not coming from me; it’s coming internally, and they push each other to always do one more and get that much better.
“I think it’s just about continuing to build in that direction. And now knowing that we’re going to make a consistent playoff appearance, I think that’ll attract the type of recruit we want here.”
Another component Hanson expects to improve upon is scheduling. While the experience was invaluable for a young team, the results demonstrated there’s still a ways to go on the journey for Dartmouth to compete on the national scene, after being outscored 16-0 and held to just six hits in two games.
“That’s already on the agenda, to keep improving our strength of schedule so that this level team becomes a routine for us and so we feel salty and seasoned when we go up against them next time,” she said.
But even in the wake of defeat, the future still appears bright for Hanson and the Big Green softball program. From a 14-win season in 2012 to consecutive division titles, a conference championship and an NCAA appearance, Dartmouth is trending in the right direction and has the right plan in place to complete its journey.
“From where we started my freshman and sophomore year, it was not where we are now, to put it nicely,” added Curosh. “What Coach has done with the program and what she was talking about with the level of commitment, Alex and I both bought into what she was saying, and all her recruits did also. Having that kind of buy-in and working so hard to accomplish something that you’ve worked for four years to get, it was surreal. Next year, I expect this team to compete once they get here.”
“I think we’ve got a lot of success ahead of us,” concluded Hanson. “This year’s experience is going to be so valuable to this team moving forward. I have no doubt that this is not the last time you’ll see Dartmouth in the tournament.”