(Photo by BYU Photo/Jaren Wilkey)
PROVO, Utah – Following a third-straight West Coast Conference title and a 12th-consecutive NCAA Regional appearance in 2016, BYU softball looks to continue the successful trends and to make some noise in 2017.
The Cougars have been extremely consistent over the years, winning eight conference titles in eight years, spanning four different conferences. In the 12 straight NCAA Regional appearances, BYU has won at least one postseason game in all but one year (2013), including the program’s lone Super Regional appearance in 2010.
Looking to build on the success, BYU’s 2017 roster is packed with experience and leadership. There are four seniors, five juniors, seven sophomores and four freshmen on this year’s squad. In this group, nine had significant starting time last season and six have been all-WCC players. This year, BYU has the most seniors on its roster since 2014 when there were five.
“This year’s team is talented, experienced and deep at every position,” BYU head coach Gordon Eakin said. “These players love to compete, bringing out some healthy competition for playing time within the team. That competition helps all players lift their game. That depth will help us with our aggressive schedule.”
From last year’s roster, the Cougars lost key senior starters Gordy Bravo and Coco Tauali’i Bond at centerfield and third base, respectively.
Each position group has great depth in 2017, each area with multiple people with significant playing time in past seasons.
After coming in last year with zero games played between them, the catchers have a lot more experience this year. Sophomores Libby Sugg and Emilee Erickson shared catching duties. Combined, they caught 14 players stealing.
Sugg started every single game last year, some as the DP. She led the team in RBI (58) and home runs (18), also ranking in the top 25 in the NCAA for home runs and home runs per game. Additionally, she received All-WCC Second Team honors.
Erickson hit .280 on the year in 2016, tallying 12 RBI and 21 hits.
Reigning WCC Player of the Year Ashley Thompson and Defensive Player of the Year Lauren Bell return for their final season to anchor the infield at first base and second base, respectively. They were both named to the 2016 WCC All-First Team.
Thompson led the team with a .400 batting average and a team-high 66 hits, a .733 slugging percentage and a .490 on-base percentage. She was named to the NFCA All-Pacific Region Second Team in addition to her conference honors. Bell was right behind Thompson in batting average with .373 and in hits with 62.
With the loss of Bond, juniors Caitlyn Larsen Alldredge and Briielle Breland look to fill the gap at third base. Alexa Strid is slated to start at shortstop with Bell taking over second base. The middle infield looks to be extremely strong with the talent of Strid and Bell, along with the leadership and game instincts that Bell will provide at second base.
Sophomore Courtney Kelly will provide depth at first base behind Thompson. In addition to her talent at third base, Breland could also see time at second base.
With the loss of four-year starter Bravo, the Cougars are looking to find a solid centerfielder. Junior Madison Merrell and freshman Brooke Vander Heide are both capable to step in. Vander Heide broke the Utah state high school record at Alta High School in career hits (214) and had the second-most stolen bases with 121.
Returning players Lexi Tarrow and McKenzie St. Clair will bring leadership and experience to the outfield. Breland, Ashley Godfrey and Allie Hancock could also see time out by the fence.
Freshman Rylee Jensen is another incoming outfielder that will see significant playing time. She was named her high school’s defensive player of the year award and the slugger award (.557 batting average).
For the first time since 2005, BYU has five pitchers on the roster, three returning from 2016. McKenna Bull, Arianna Paulson and Olivia Sanchez all saw time in the circle last season, with Bull carrying most of the load.
Bull is a two-time WCC Pitcher of the Year (2015, 2016). She holds the BYU career records in shutouts and saves while sitting in second all-time in wins, complete games, innings pitched and strikeouts. Additionally, she holds BYU single-season records in wins, complete games, shutouts, saves, innings pitched and strikeouts. In her career, she has two no-hitters.
Last season, Sanchez pitched shutouts against Creighton and Boise State and notched six strikeouts in games against Texas and Harvard. Paulson threw a career high of seven strikeouts in a complete game against San Diego.
New to the pitching staff this year are Arissa Paulson, younger sister of Arianna, and Kerisa Viramontes. Both Paulsons and Sanchez could also see time at first base or in the batting lineup.
The 2017 season begins in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico with the Puerto Vallarta College Challenge. The season opener against Nebraska will be televised live on ESPN3.