Utah, the 2002 Mountain West Tournament Champions, opens play on Feb. 7 in Arizona.
Feb. 4, 2003
At The Plate
Utah kicks off its 2003 season in Arizona at the Fiesta Bowl Tournament, February 7-9. Utah opens the tourney against Texas Tech and Iowa State on Feb. 7, and then battles three teams currently ranked in the USA Today/NFCA Top 25 poll in No. 23 Oregon State (Feb. 8), No. 24 Texas A&M (Feb. 8) and No. 13 Arizona State (Feb. 9).
After wrapping up the MWC Tournament Championship and a trip to the NCAA tournament, Utah looks to carry over it's momentum from a season ago. Returning to the mix are all-conference honorees Melissa Stahnke and Niki Hayhurst, and MWC Tournament MVP Jen Pursell. Overall, Utah returns nine letterwinners and four starters to combine with seven newcomers. The Utes were picked second in the conference preseason coaches' poll, behind San Diego State.
Melissa Stahnke and Niki Hayhurst led the Utes last season in four categories. Stahnke was first with 16 home runs, 46 RBI and a .627 slugging percentage. Hayhurst notched a team-best 16 doubles. Hurler Jen Pursell recorded a team-best 18 wins and 146 strikeouts, while holding opponents to a .271 batting average.
Utah travels to Las Vegas, Nev., for the UNLV Classic, Feb. 14-16. The tournament features a battle with No. 1 UCLA on Feb. 16.
"We are definitely going to be tested in our first two weekends of play. ASU's is one of the top tourney's around. I like challenging our team early because then we know where we stand and what we are capable of. I'm not sure how we'll do this weekend, but I do know we are much more prepared than in years past because we've been able to practice on the dirt before the season starts."
Home Sweet Home
The Utes began the 2002 season for a solid month on the road to avoid the Winter Olympic traffic. That February proved to be rough for Utah as it recorded a 7-19 record. The games did included several match ups with top 25 teams. Overall, the Utes recorded 10-14 road and 7-15 neutral records. Ute field seemed to be the place for Utah as it went 13-7 at home.
Melissa Stahnke, arguably the best hitter to play at Utah, will move from shortstop to third base this season. The junior, who already ranks as the Ute career home run leader, looks to add to that total this season.
Senior first baseman Niki Hayhurst, a three-time all-MWC performer, looks to make her senior season her best yet. Hayhurst currently ranks fifth in the Ute records with a .336 career batting average.
Pitcher Jen Pursell enters her senior season after transferring to Utah a year ago. Pursell was the 2002 MWC Tourney MVP.
Comprising the Utes' this season are 11 newcomers, including Glennis Donnelly, Jackie Wong and Ivette Hernandez. Donnelly was a two-time JUCO All-American, who hit near the .500 mark for her career. Wong garnered all-league honors in California, while Hernandez was named the 2002 California Interscholastic Federation Player of the Year.
Head Coach Mona Stevens is in her seventh season at the helm of the Utah softball program. Stevens, a well-known coach at the collegiate, national and international levels, has a 217-150-1 (.591) overall record. The Provo, Utah, native is currently serving as President of the National Fastpitch Coaches Association. In her spare time, Stevens enjoys performing with her band, the Sister Wives.
An All-Ute Staff
Joining Stevens as coaches are Marianne Bullis and Carrie Kosderka. All three were Ute players and are U. graduates. Kosderka is in her second season as an assistant coach, while Bullis is in her first.