The job is the same one Thomas College softball coach Terry Parlin has had for nearly a decade. It just got easier.

“Recruiting has been a lot easier once they see that you have been to the NCAAs,” he said. “Your better players, they want to do that. They expect to do that. If you’ve never done it, then sometimes they’re not going to look at you. Many little things have been easier due to the fact that we did (make) it.”

What the Terriers did was go on a storybook run last season, one that included a North Atlantic Conference championship, ended with an NCAA tournament appearance and set a new bar for the program.

“It was very, very exciting. It was my ninth year last year and it seemed like we had a couple of opportunities to get to the final, and we never seemed to be able to make it,” Parlin said. “Just a great step for us to take as a program, and it makes a difference as to how the kids think about the following year and wanting to have that same experience again.”

The players said as much. Now that they’ve made it, they’re eager to go again.

“It was amazing,” said junior shortstop and captain Lexi Colpack, whose team is headed back to Maine at 8-9 after a 7-8 trip in Florida. “It was a crazy experience that I hope to (go through) again, and I’ll work as hard as I can to get there with my team.”

It would be hard for a second Thomas trip to match the drama of the first. The Terriers started 0-5 and were 7-21 going into the final weekend of the season, seemingly a lifeless team lacking in both chemistry and confidence.

“We had a couple of problems at the beginning of the season,” Colpack said. “We sat down and had a talk about how we never went into a game knowing we were going to win, and (then) we finally went in with a lot of confidence and played our best ball.”

Thomas swept the last two doubleheaders of the season, then kept up the momentum in the NAC playoffs. Led by tournament MVP Sydney LeBourveau, the Terriers beat Castleton, Husson and then Castleton again to win the conference championship and secure their first trip to the NCAAs.

“They expected to do well,” Parlin said. “We’ve been there every year, we’ve thought we had an outside chance of winning though we realized we weren’t necessarily the best team there.

“The same old philosophy is anything can happen in a playoff series like this. Why can’t we be lucky for once?”

Thomas didn’t let the ride end without a fight, playing tough in a 6-2 loss to Williams (in which Thomas had a 2-0 lead) and then a 5-0 loss to Rensselaer in eight innings.

We said ‘Hey, we’re just going to go play like we did. We’re just going to go enjoy the experience and play as hard as we can,’ ” Parlin said. “We felt really good about what we did and how we had played. It was a good stepping stone into the next season.”

So far, the Terriers have taken it upon themselves to take that next step. After going 2-12 in Florida last year, Thomas was right near .500 this time, showing what Colpack said was a spike in mental toughness.

“We went into a couple of games where we were in extra innings and we beat them out, and we came back in games, we had a lot of heart and we dug really deep,” she said. “To have that that soon is crazy, we’ve never had that.”

A reason for that turnaround has been a lineup that scuffled early last year but has found a rhythm this season, posting a .286 batting average and scoring 4.5 runs per game. The team has been paced by its returners — LeBourveau leads the team with a .431 average, while Colpack is batting .358 with a team-high 11 RBIs — while also getting impressive contributions from its newcomers and younger players. Freshman Katlyn Coulter has a team-high three home runs and 11 RBIs, while sophomore Lauren Farina has raised her average from .253 to .372.

“We’re hitting a lot better than we did last year,” LeBourveau said. “Last year we struggled making contact and getting hits and getting on base, but this year we’re more aggressive, we’re smarter and we’re able to make better contact.”

The pitching has also been deeper. LeBourveau is back in the circle after going 10-12 with a 2.92 ERA, but Coulter (5-2, 2.41) and Haley Littlefield (0-2, 2.21) have helped relieve some of the junior’s workload.

The result is a team that should be better in all areas — and a team that isn’t ready to think of last year’s finish as a one-time deal.

“We’re a lot more confident because we know that we can do it,” LeBourveau said. “We’re more determined because we have higher expectations this year.”

“We know that we’re capable of going back to NCAAs. But we know that every single day, we have to work for something,” Colpack said. “We have something to prove every day.”

Drew Bonifant — 621-5638

[email protected]

Twitter: @dbonifantMTM

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