The 2020-’21 season was yet another successful one on the softball diamond for GCIT: The team went 15-4 on the season en route to the program’s first NJSIAA South Jersey Group 4 sectional finals appearance.
A big reason for the team’s success last season were the six seniors in the starting lineup who are now playing at the next level for their respective teams in college this spring.
It might have been reasonable to expect some sort of regression during the Cheetahs’ current 2021-’22 season, following the graduation of so many high-impact varsity players, But GCIT is once again proving it will not be taken lightly this season, as several younger players take advantage of their newfound playing time.
“I wouldn’t call it a rebuilding year at all, but it was time to see who was going to fit the puzzle together for us on the field, and we’re still tweaking it a little bit here and there as the season continues,” head coach John Holland said.
“We have a couple seniors, some juniors and some sophomores that are all contributing pretty equally,” he added, “both from in the starting lineup and those on the bench.”
Teams coached by Holland are rarely strangers to success: The longtime GCIT coach has been at the helm of the only two girls’ teams in school history to win sectional titles: The 2012-’13 softball team and the 2021-’22 bowling team. Both titles were won while the Cheetahs were still in Group 3.
The goal each season is to make a run at a conference and sectional titles, but the inexperience around the field to start the current season prompted a fair amount of skepticism before positive results came.
But through its first 13 games of the season, GCIT is 9-4, having recently made it to the championship game of the 16-team Overbrook Tournament. The Cheetahs outscored their opponents 30-7 in the first three games of the single-elimination tournament to make it to the championship game against Cedar Creek.
A good part of the team’s success so far this year is senior Madison Luedtke, a name that’s been in the lineup since her freshman year with the Cheetahs. Already this season, Luedtke has belted three home runs and driven in 17 RBIs, both team highs. She is currently building off a strong junior season in which she hit over .300 and led the team in runs scored and walks.
Coming into her final high-school season, Luedtke aims to strengthen her mental approach to the sport.
“I really wanted to focus on my mental approach and having a good softball IQ on the field, especially with me being a little of a team leader,” she said. “It’s not something that I feel like I’ve struggled with, but it’s definitely something that always needs to be paid attention to.”
As the team’s starting center fielder, Luedtke is the captain of the outfield. Three years ago, during her freshman season, she played in more of a utility role early on because of her age, but easily gained the attention of coaches when three of her four hits that season were home runs.
Luedtke’s play early on that freshman season necessitated finding her a spot on the field for more consistent playing time. Her sophomore season was lost due to COVID, but she’s continued to take advantage of any and all time on the field.
“She had a really strong freshman year in the few at-bats she got, but we quickly realized we had to find a starting spot for her sophomore year, which she never got the chance to have,” Holland said. “She was a big part of our success last year and she’s continuing to be a leader out here now during her senior season.
“She truly gives 100-percent effort at all times,” he added. “She’s always got her head in the game and she expects that same level of play from her teammates as well.”
Luedtke is headed to Rider to continue her softball career next spring, but not before she and her team possibly make some noise in the postseason next month.
“I think we have a pretty strong team this year, especially with how I feel so far hitting in the three hole and how I expect myself to contribute,” she said. “So I look forward to us doing the best that we can moving forward.”