Thibeault inspires struggling squad
Meghan Thibeault didn’t go to college just to play softball.
She didn’t see herself making the Olympic team or hoisting MVP trophies above her head or any of those ego-feeding accomplishments many athletes desire.
Thibeault, a junior from Scituate, chose Massachusetts Maritime Academy because she cares about protecting the environment and wanted to do her part. Playing softball was supposed to be a bonus.
She had no idea what she was getting into, or how important she would be to the squad.
The Buccaneers are 2-13 this season, including a winless mark in MASCAC play. MMA lost outfielder Jamie Kerner (Medford) to a concussion and catcher Rachel Johnson, a junior captain from South Chatham, to a severe knee injury after a home-plate collision. The roster is now at 10 players, and that includes two young women who had never played softball at a competitive level before, and another who was just added to the team last Tuesday as a favor to a friend.
Lindsay DeStefano has been coaching the squad for two years. Her friends told her from the beginning, “If you can coach here, you can coach anywhere.’’
“And now,’’ she says, “I’m just starting to see why people said that.’’
Mass. Maritime isn’t your typical wake-up-in-the-afternoon, splurge-on-Hostess-cakes, maybe-go-to-class institution. The structure makes that nearly impossible.
Students rise with the sun and have mandated cleaning time. There are at least two hours a day in which no Facebook time or cellphone interaction is allowed. While students at other universities help each other decide on outfits for a Friday night, students at Mass. Maritime give tips on shining their shoes.
So when it finally comes time for those two hours a day in which athletics are the only concern, DeStefano never has any doubt that the players are giving 100 percent of their attention and energy.
Thibeault has exemplified that to a tee.
“I tell my kids, ‘If you play like Meghan Thibeault every single pitch, you’ll be a good team,’ ’’ the coach said. “That’s what I’m trying to get out of them - where every single pitch is life or death.’’
For Thibeault, success on the softball field has not been an issue. She’s hitting .314 through 15 games, including a home run, and is so involved defensively that DeStefano says, “she’s a first baseman, and the play could be in left field, but she’ll still be there. That’s the kind of player she is.’’
With the team’s struggles and so many new faces, DeStefano has been forced to bring her coaching methods back to square one. She’s not expecting her players to win the conference title, but is asking them to stay committed and always be present.
Thibeault has been a role model.
“I can’t even name all the challenges these kids have here, and I don’t think people fully understand them,’’ DeStefano said. “And Meghan wants to play well. But she’s also really focused on helping new players and trying to teach them.
“And if you’re not doing well, sometimes that’s hard. But I think she’s really focused on thinking, ‘Maybe I’m 0 for 4, but the freshman got a hit, so I’ll be happy for her.’ ’’
It’s easier said than done, but Thibeault’s making the effort.
“If I don’t get a hit, I feel guilty,’’ she said. “I’m trying to encourage the girls to hit the ball and if I can’t do it, that’s not good. But you’re not going to bat a thousand every game.’’
And it’s not just softball that earns Thibeault’s passion. She spent all last winter on a co-op in Virginia working for the environmental department, and she’s a squad leader in charge of 50 freshmen in the academy’s leadership program.
So for that, she is happy she became a Buccaneer. Even if that means losing all but two games this season.
“I wouldn’t have done as well as I’ve had if I went to a different college,’’ Thibeault said. “We have a different way that we run our school here, but I wouldn’t change it for anything.’’
Whiting hits stride for Fitchburg State
Two summers ago, Fitchburg State softball coach Frank Steffanides was in Sharon scouting a potential recruit when he came across Brittany Whiting.
As Steffanides remembers, Whiting “got hammered, but she had pitched 10 straight days. So she came up to me and apologized. I said, ‘Don’t worry about it.’ And I knew right away what I like about her, and that’s her mental toughness.’’
It’s why the coach wasn’t the least bit worried when Whiting, a Hockomock All-Star at Sharon High, got off to a slow start this season, her first at Fitchburg.
And last week, Whiting picked up two wins and a save with 17 strikeouts while the Falcons went 4-0.
She tied a school single-game record with 12 strikeouts in a 6-3 win over Massachusetts College of Liberal Arts and spun a one-hitter against Fisher, lowering her season ERA to 3.61.
“I’ve had pitchers in the past who were talented, but when push came to shove, they’d back off,’’ Steffanides said. “She’s got toughness, and I love it. That’ll only get better. She’s just scratching the surface right now, I think.’’Jason Mastrodonato can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.