Jackie Wong leads eight returning letterwinners and five returning starters on the 2006 Utah softball team.
Jan. 31, 2006
The University of Utah softball team will take the field in 2006 with something it didn't have last season ... options.
The Utes return eight letterwinners and five starters. But, they add seven newcomers to the mix, addressing a much-needed issue of depth.
"We're going to be a lot deeper offensively this year," interim co-head coach Kyle Magnusson said. "Our lineup is not going to be just one-through-four anymore."
The Utes will compliment their top three hitters by adding a trio of freshmen. Redshirt freshman Staci Hemingway will be joined by true freshmen Jessica Shiery and Hailey Davenport in order to bolster the lineup. All three will be looked upon to put the ball in play and to hang runs on the board.
"The newcomers bring a great amount of talent and enthusiasm to this year's team," said interim co-head coach Marianne Bullis.
"We have made improvements in all facets of the game," continued Bullis. "We've added offensive threats in the lineup as well as experience in the circle."
Last year, the Utes went to battle with a two-pitcher rotation. It turned in a 21-29 mark for the season, going 6-12 in league play. But, this season, Utah will have four pitchers to man its first line of defense.
"I think the team understands that the game is pitching," Magnusson remarked. "And, we're going to be better at it this year. Each thrower we have has the potential to be a No. 1 pitcher."
"Pitching is our biggest improvement from last year," Magnusson said. "But, the team's attitude is a lot better too. The team chemistry has improved and that shows in everything we've done so far this year."
Not only will the Utes look for quality pitching this year but their should also benefit from a versatile staff of four hurlers.
Nielsen took over as Utah's No. 1 pitcher when conference season rolled around in 2005. She turned in a 10-14 mark and a 3.20 earned-run average for the year. She saw her ERA improve to 2.43 in league play and went 4-6 against conference foes.
Three junior college transfers round out the four-person staff in Cannon, Shrock and Dyer.
Cannon and Shrock both led their respective junior college teams to impressive showings at the NJCAA National Tournament. Dyer was one of the top options at San Joaquin Delta CC last year, guiding it to a top-four finish in the California tournament.
The second half of the battery will be one of the more youthful aspects of the Utes in 2006.
A pair of freshmen will be called upon to handle the catching duties this season. Andrea Hoffman and Shiery will split time behind the plate.
"Although we have a pair of freshmen leading the team behind the plate, Hoffman and Shiery are capable of rising to the challenge and meeting all of our expectations," Bullis said.
Both Hoffman and Shiery are solid defensively. Hoffman is a hard-working athlete who works well with pitchers while Shiery is a solid hitter who has potential to be one of the team's top offensive threats.
The infield will be one of the team's strengths. All four starting infielders from last year's squad return to patrol the diamond in 2006.
"We were solid at infield last year," remarked Magnusson. "And, with two seniors, a junior and a sophomore returning this year, we're confident that it will be a strength again this year."
Manning the right side of the horn are a pair of seniors in Hernandez and Jackie Wong.
Last year, Hernandez was third on the team and led the squad with nine home runs. Not only will Utah depend on her offense in the lineup but it will rely upon her leadership in the field as well.
Wong is also a four-year starter at second base and adds athleticism and range in the middle. With the addition of more power hitters to the lineup, Wong's speed will be essential, both in the field and on the bases.
Last year, she led off the Utes, hitting .258 and stealing five bases.
The left side of the field is secured by third baseman Quintero and shortstop Sharee Fonoti.
Quintero brings a lot of talent to the team and has been one of the top offensive players as well.
The infielder has been the team's second-best batter the last two seasons, hitting .305 last year and leading the team with six doubles. She begins her junior season with a .317 career average.
Fonoti is a smooth and athletic player who adds tremendous range in solidifying the middle infield with Wong. Fonoti came in and started as a freshman last year. With a year's experience under her belt, she should be an asset at the plate as well.
Hemingway and Davenport could also see time in the infield.
A utility player, Hemingway is a versatile asset who has good hands and knows the game well. Hemingway brings a consistent bat to the lineup and can play both infield and outfield.
Meanwhile, Davenport has skillful hands as well and is a consistent infielder that could play at either corner. Davenport is a power hitter as well, complimenting Quintero, Phillips and Hernandez in the lineup.
With three of the five letterwinners lost being outfielders, the outfield begins 2006 as an unproven aspect of the team.
But, the outfield is anchored by all-conference center fielder, Phillips. Last year, she was one of the team's most consistent players, sparking a lot of its offense.
Phillips will return to play center field again on the heels of a very successful freshman season. Not only did she consistently put the ball in play, but she also led the team with 46 hits and 28 runs.
While center field is solidified, right and left field remain question marks.
Matthews is stronger on defense while Crouse is better at attacking defenses with the bat. Matthews played in 40 games last year, mostly as a pinch runner, while Crouse saw action in 42 games, making 32 starts in right field.
Hemingway, Quintero and Shiery could also play outfield, depending on the lineup.
The 2006 softball season begins on Feb. 10 at the Hilton Las Cruces Invitational. That starts a string of 25 straight road games spread among five different tournaments.
The most prestigious tournaments are the Louisville Slugger Desert Classic in Las Vegas, Nev., and the Kia Invitational in Fullerton, Calif. In Las Vegas, Utah will face Big Ten foe Illinois while it will play perennial powers Oklahoma and Fresno State at the Kia.
"This year's schedule is well-rounded and balanced," said Bullis. "It will test and help us prepare for the Mountain West Conference and the postseason tournaments."
The first home games are on March 24-26 when the Utes host the Utah Invitational. Conference play begins with a home doubleheader against UNLV on March 31. The MWC Tournament is in Las Vegas on May 11-13.