After a 30-23 record and key wins over five top-25 teams last season, including a win at No. 2 Stanford, the Cougars look to raise the bar this season with the expectations of a second MWC Title in three season.
The high-powered offense finished ninth in the country in home runs (46) and 25th in scoring with an average of 4.79 runs per game.
The BYU softball team looks forward to a new season of success in 2003. The team has revamped its coaching staff and added key players to build on the early success of its short three-year program.
"Overall, the team looks very bright for this year," new head coach Gordon Eakin said. "We have a blend of experienced players and talented newcomers that have come together to form a very strong team chemistry."
BYU lost six key contributors from last year's team, including All-MWC Liz Vanderlinden and Kari Pringle. The Cougars return two-time First-Team All-American Oli Keohohou and 2001 MWC Tournament MVP, senior Brooke Cadiente, the only player remaining from the original 2000 inaugural team.
The Cougars recruited three top-notch freshmen and signed three experienced junior college transfers.
"We haven't missed a beat," the coaching staff said. "We have the ingredients to be better than we ever have."
The Cougars will face strong competition this season against the likes of UCLA, Oregon State, DePaul and Fresno State. The Cougars will host six double headers at home including a Mar. 29 showdown with rival Utah at Gail Miller Park.
"We have a very competitive schedule with a good balance and mixture of teams," Eakin said. "We are ready to compete on even a higher level."
The Mountain West Conference looks stronger than it ever has before since its inception. BYU was picked third in the conference by the coaches behind San Diego State and Utah and returns the conferences only All-American in Keohohou.
San Diego State looks strong after winning the regular season crown last year and returns several starters and was voted to finish first in the coaches poll. Utah captured the tournament title and was voted second in the conference.
"There is a lot of parity in our conference, anybody can beat anybody on any given day," Eakin said. "I don't see one dominant team in the conference and any team can sneak up on you."
Senior Cynthia Fallowfield, a transfer from the University of Georgia, enters her second season as a Cougar. Fallowfield led BYU in wins last season with 12 and provided a spark in the hitting line-up with 22 hits and 15 RBI.
Junior Ariel Capra tallied nine wins and only six losses last season for the Cougars. She was named MWC Pitcher of the Week, the first Cougar ever, for her strong start last season but had a shortened season with troubles in her throwing shoulder that required off-season surgery. Capra, a lefty, is still in rehabilitation from the surgery and is uncertain about her status this year and may redshirt.
Sophomore Niki Andersen had a strong end to her freshman campaign last season after a shaky start. The three-time state champion in high school led the team in ERA (2.92) and strikeouts (74) last season while starting 16 games.
The Cougars add freshman recruit Brooke Boyce to the pitching staff this year along with Mandy Flint, a transfer from Southern Utah in her final season of eligibility.
"We're optimistic about the pitching staff, "pitching coach Vaughn Alvey said. "We have a lot of versatility with each pitcher bringing a unique strength to the game."
Sophomores Arron Layns and Lauren Watson return from sharing and starting the position last season. With a year of experience behind the plate, both strong-armed players look to quarterback the infield to play solid defense. Watson will assume the lead off hitter position after posting 41 hits and 23 RBI in her freshman campaign.
All-American Oli Keohohou, a junior, will move from outfield to first base this season with the loss of starter Liz Boydston to graduation. Keohohou led the Mountain West Conference in virtually every major hitting category including batting average (.422), home runs (18), and RBI (43). She looked comfortable in the fall exhibition season playing at her new position.
Sophomore Milli Jones looks to assume the second base position vacated by the graduation of Pringle. Jones saw limited action last season, but has game experience winning three state championships in high school and is excited to rejoin her former high school coach Vaughn Alvey in the dugout.
Also vying for second base is Lindsey Gerhauser, a transfer from Snow College in Ephraim, Utah, who will be in her junior season of eligibility.
At shortstop, junior Kate Walker, a transfer from the University of Oregon, will start in her second season in Cougar blue. Walker gained valuable experience facing top competition in the PAC-10. Defensively, she is considered the best player on the team. Last season, Walker made huge strides defensively and looks to step up offensively for the Cougars with the loss of last year's seniors.
At third base, freshman Ashlyn Russell, a strong player with quick hands and a native of Maui, Hawaii, looks to solidify the position this season with the departure of Jill Roberts and Megan Johnson, who shared time last season.
Sophomore Katy Barnes looks to see action at first base and other infield positions this season along with fellow sophomore Debbie Dodds, a utility player who saw 35 plate appearances last season.
Brooke Cadiente will lead a Cougar outfield that lost Vanderlinden to graduation and Keohohou to the infield. Cadiente was second on the team in batting average (.304) and RBI (43) last season. She was voted to the MWC All-Tournament team last season with a grand slam against No. 1 San Diego State that brought her season home run total to 10. She looks to bring leadership and consistency to a new look outfield.
Joining Cadiente will be freshman Ianeta Lei, another Hawaiian recruit, who played solid in fall exhibition play. Also Belinda Osborn, a transfer from Utah Valley State College, will add experience to the position as a junior.
Gail Miller Field completed its first full year of operation hosting the 2002 Mountain West Conference championships last May. The 2,100-capacity stadium is the fourth largest in the country. The stadium features all stadium seats, a press box, locker rooms, laundry issue rooms and state-of-the-art scoreboards.
"Our stadium is the nicest facility in the country," Eakin said. "Not only is everything state-of-the-art, but everything is in-house including the training room and laundry services."
The Cougars look not only to start the season strong as they did last year, but expect to improve with every game this season and finish the year playing in the NCAA Tournament. The team chemistry is very strong with all team members contributing as a whole. A new coaching staff and a new philosophy on team unity adds to the excitement of a new era in BYU Softball.
As the new team mission statement says," We believe in fully supporting and fighting for all members of our team."