(Photo by BYU Photo)
PROVO, Utah--The BYU softball team will look to rely on its depth and senior leadership as it begins its 2013 season in a new conference.
“Our expectations are always to be a competitive team,” head coach Gordon Eakin said. “Our goal is to win a conference championship and make it to the NCAA tournament. We will work to get better every day and in turn let those big things take care of themselves.”
BYU softball spent its first 11 seasons in the Mountain West Conference and earned five conference championships and seven postseason appearances during that time.
Last year, BYU made the switch to the Western Athletic Conference and had its eighth-straight 40-win season under Eakin. Eakin has an overall record of 416-175 at BYU. This year he will start his 11th season at the helm and looks to mold his young team into postseason contenders.
BYU will make one more conference switch to the Pacific Coast Softball Conference this year and will then find a permanent home in the West Coast Conference in 2014. The Cougars will face PCSC foes San Diego, Utah Valley, Loyola Marymount, Santa Clara, Cal State Bakersfield and Saint Mary’s. The Cougars were voted to win the PCSC championship in the preseason poll.
“We’re excited to play in a new conference with new venues and places we’ve never played before,” Eakin said. “We’re eager to see how this young team responds to another new challenge for the third-straight season in another new league.”
BYU will kick off the season with five tournaments before coming home on March 19th for its home opener against Marist College. The Cougars will also play Houston, Southern Utah and Utah in non-conference matchups.
The Cougars will play this season without five players from the 2012 roster including starting outfielders Jessica Dugas and Tiffany Messershmidt, All-American Delaney Willard, starting second baseman Stacie Toney and power hitter Krista Hicks. This year BYU will search for new leadership in its seniors to help fill the space left by the previous seniors.
Pitiching looks to be a strength for the Cougars with three returning pitchers from last year’s roster. The staff will look to capitalize on its experience and diversity to help the team this season.
Vaughn Alvey will lead the pitching staff in his 11th year at BYU. Senior Hannah Howell, junior Tori Almond and sophomore Caroline Umphlett will take the mound this season for the Cougars.
“I’m really excited about the prospect of this year’s staff,” Alvey said. “We’ve combined ability with experience and three diverse styles of pitching which gives us the skill to match up with certain teams, whether they are power teams or speed teams.”
Howell and Almond will likely compete for a majority of the starts this season. Howell started in 33 games last year and compiled a record of 20-8 alongside 137 strikeouts and a 2.74 ERA. With a record of 10-4 her freshman year, Almond improved to 20-4 in 2012 alongside an impressive 2.00 ERA and 154 strikeouts. She was also named to the NFCA All-Region Second Team.
Umphlett went 4-0 with a save to start her BYU career in 2012, including big wins against No. 15 Texas A&M and No. 11 Oregon. After finishing the season with a 5-3 record, the staff will utilize Umphlett’s power and speed to contend with top teams again this year. She is expected to compete for more innings.
Junior Jenna Goar, sophomores Anna Hudson, Megan Arnold and Mylee Davis, and freshman Coryn Tauali’i are all in the running for the starting position behind the plate.
Hudson started in 27 games at the catching position last year. Transfer Davis will be a valuable player for the Cougars in her first year on the team. In her freshman year at Salt Lake Community College, she started in 44 games and hit .317 for 32 RBIs and 26 runs. Arnold, who swings a big bat, made great strides as a catcher during her freshman year and could see more time as she develops.
All-American JC Clayton will anchor the infield at shortstop. She will also be a huge asset to the team’s offense. Last year, her .405 batting average, 79 hits and 53 runs led her to NFCA All-Region First Team and All-WAC First Team accolades.
Returning at first base, junior Katie Manuma will provide power in the lineup. Last year, she hit .316 with seven doubles and eight home runs. Arnold will back her up on defense.
Junior Madisen Robb and freshman Coryn Tauali’i will compete for time at second base and returning third baseman Ashlee Brawley Robinson will add solid defense to the corner of the infield. Robb will back up Robinson at third.
After losing all three starters in the outfield from last season, BYU will look to seniors Alexandra Hudson Shamo and Bailie Hicken, junior Carly Duckworth, sophomore Lacey Millett and freshmen Marissa Bravo and McKenzie St. Clair to fill the void.
Shamo has the most experience from last year’s squad and will anchor the outfield with her versatility and arm.
Duckworth proved to be valuable in the outfield over the offseason and will provide both speed and power in the lineup. Hicken and Millett will provide raw speed for the team, both in the outfield and on the bases.
Bravo was a bright spot for the Cougars during the fall season and will make an immediate impact on the team offensively and defensively. St. Clair will add depth to the outfield as she develops and gains experience under the upperclassmen.
The team will also be assisted by Ianeta Le'i in her sixth season as an assistant coach, Delaney Willard in her first year as a graduate assistant and Chris Linde as the team's long-time athletic trainer.
BYU starts its season on Feb. 7 against Colorado State at the Red Desert Classic at 1:30 p.m. MST.