Chalese Fankhauser and the Utes begin their 2013 season this weekend at the Red Desert Classic.
Feb. 5, 2013
With the first pitch of the 2013 Utah softball campaign three days away, utahutes.com will prepare fans for the Utes' second Pac-12 Conference season with a breakdown of the roster as well as a look at the upcoming schedule. This is the first in a three-part series about the student-athletes Utah has at each position heading into the season as well as the competition they will face.
2013 Utah Softball Preview
Tuesday, Feb. 5: Infield and Outfield
Wednesday, Feb. 6: Pitchers and Catchers
Thursday, Feb. 7: Utility Players and Schedule
The key to the University of Utah softball team's 2013 season will be whether or not the Utes can transfer their momentum against non-league foes into their second go-around against Pac-12 Conference competition, the most competitive league in the United States.
Utah went 26-6 in non-conference play in 2012, a stretch that included a 12-game win streak.
"Last year was the toughest schedule we've ever had and this year's schedule is tougher," Utah head coach Amy Hogue said. "If we can continue to hit that .500 mark with the schedule we have this year, I believe we will be postseason-bound."
Utah finished last season with a .500 or better overall record for the second straight season, the first time the Utes have posted had back-to-back .500 or better seasons since 2001.
"We changed some things up in our preseason schedule," Hogue said. "The competition we'll face in this preseason is tougher to help us prepare a little more for the Pac-12."
The Utes welcome back seven returning starters, but will have to compensate for the loss of five accomplished athletes, three who served as the captains of last year's team.
"We have a lot of physical talent going into the season, but I look forward to seeing who steps up in our games as leaders," Hogue said. "Katelyn Elliott and Kelsi Hoopiiaina have been voted to be our captains and they lead in two completely different ways. `Elli' is the talker, while `Hoop' is the doer. We will look to them a lot to replace to leadership we graduated last year."
Utah's veteran middle infielders both return for their senior seasons, but each corner position will feature new faces.
Hoopiiaina, a three-year starter at shortstop, once again teams with Jackie Sweet, who enters her third season as Utah's starting second baseman, to form a record-breaking double-play combination that will be the backbone of Utah's stout defense.
"(Sweet and Hoopiiaina) turned more double plays than anyone else in the Pac-12 last year and that was with a rise-ball pitcher throwing most of our games," Hogue said. "Being more of a down-ball pitching staff this year, I expect that number to go up and we're going to need them to. Any chance we have to get two outs with one ground ball is going to be necessary for our success this year. Our middles are amazing to watch and can "turn it" with the best of them.
Hoopiiaina was named to the Pac-12 All-Conference Honorable Mention squad last season after finishing third on the team with a .322 batting average to go with 19 stolen bases on 19 attempts.
"We have three returning players who hit .300 or better last season," Hogue said. "We definitely have more depth this year offensively, so we're not going to have to rely on our top three hitters. This should allow our hitters to be more loose this year at the plate knowing there are good hitters behind them."
At the plate, Sweet hit .303 on the year and also boasted a .388 on-base percentage and a .515 slugging percentage last season.
"Jackie turned a corner last year as an offensive player. I think she's always thought of herself as a defensive player who was going to help her team because of what she did at second base. I don't know the exact point, but sometime around mid-season last year, she decided that she can help us offensively. She really did a nice job in the Pac-12 against the best pitchers in the country so she is going to be fun to watch this year. Her expectations are going to be higher than they've ever been at the plate."
Elliott moves from her starting role as Utah's designated player into the field at first base. Elliott earned honorable mention status from the conference after emerging as Utah's No. 3 or 4 hitter in 2012. She finished second on the team with a .336 batting average to go with a .582 slugging percentage and a .390 on-base percentage.
"We have battles on both corners of the infield," Hogue said. "Taylor and Kristen are battling for the spot at third base. Both can get the job done defensively, but it's just a matter of who's going to hit the ball a little better. They're two totally different types of hitters, too, so it may depend on who we're playing and what we need in that game. Stewart is more of a power hitter and Taylor is more of a skilled, left-handed slapper who will set the table and move runners. There will be a need for both of them."
"We are already seeing some battles for the positions in the outfield," Hogue said. "We're talking about four positions, with three outfield spots and a designated player. Kate Dickman and Marissa Mendenhall are two of those four that have earned the start going into the first weekend. They have both shown consistency at the plate last year to be considered starters. The other two spots will rotate for us as we find out who is going to help us win ball games."
Dickman has solidified a starting position in left field after earning an Honorable Mention nod on the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team after starting in 53 games during her first season with the Utes that saw her sport a .285 batting average with 21 RBI during her rookie campaign.
"Kate showed us a lot last year as a freshman and she improved the most over the offseason," Hogue said. "She came back ready and she is better in all of the areas that we asked her to get better in. She's a better base runner. She has more power. I guarantee she's going to give us more home runs this year."
"(Mendenhall) has already offensively earned a spot in our hitting lineup, which means that she will either be playing right field or DP," Hogue said. "She is a starter for us right now. `Bug' is a gamer. She is just one of those players that finds a way to get it done. She's a long-ball threat and gives us chances to jump on a team with one swing."
Incoming transfer Shelbi Everett will bring wealth of versatility not only to the Ute outfield, but the entire team.
"(Everett) is a great addition to our team and a definite long ball threat as well," Hogue said. "If she's one of our top nine hitters then we will find a position for her. She's had reps in three different positions: right field, DP and catcher, but had some health issues in the fall. If she can remain healthy, she gives our lineup a bunch of different options."
In center field, junior Chalese Fankhauser is fighting to secure a spot in center field. She has already started 78 games for the Utes during her career, but sophomore Trina Gomez, a transfer from SLCC is also eyeing the spot.
"Defensively, Chalese has been our best center fielder," Hogue said. "Although, Trina has not let us ignore the fact that she's ready to start for us. She's an exciting player, especially because of what she brings offensively. She is a slapper with amazing speed, something we were missing last year. She'll steal bases for us and is one of our top three outfielders defensively. Both of them will see time out there early and I look forward to the battle."
Sr. R/R 5-4 Spanish Fork, Utah Salt Lake Community College
Pac-12 All-Conference Honorable Mention selection in 2012 ... emerged as the No. 3 or 4 hitter in the Ute lineup ... started 43 games in 2012 ... accumulated a .582 slugging percentage last season to go with a .390 on-base percentage ... drove in 26 runs last season ... aggressive hitter with home run power ... tied school record with three homers at No. 2 Arizona State (5/6/12) ... hit first triple of her career at Weber State (4/25/12).
Sr. R/R 5-8 Riverton, Utah Riverton H.S.
2012 Pac-12 All-Conference Honorable Mention selection ... helped turn 16 double plays last season, which tied for fifth in the Pac-12 ... in three years as Utah starting shortstop, owns 162 career starts ... seventh in the Pac-12 with 19 stolen bases on 19 attempts last season ... tied for team lead with 21 extra-base hits in 2012 ... teams with second baseman Jackie Sweet as Utah's record-setting double-play combination.
Sr. R/R 5-6 Corona, Calif. UC Santa Barbara
Utah's every day second baseman ... helped turn 15 double plays in 2012, which tied with teammate Kelsi Hoopiiaina for second in the Pac-12 ... one of three Ute infielders to start all 56 games last season ... fourth on the team with a .303 batting average in 2012.
So. R/R 5-4 Tucson, Ariz. Sunnyside H.S.
Talented player looking to gain experience at first base ... first career hit was a solo home run last season against Drexel (2/26/12) ... great power, feet and attitude ... extremely athletic and will only get better with time.
Jr. R/R 5-6 Bountiful, Utah Bountiful H.S.
Will compete for playing time at third base ... hit .556 in 2012 ... has a great mind for the game ... trustworthy with the ball in her hands on defense ... triple-threat at the plate ... a quite, but extremely competitive player.
Fr. R/R 5-4 Covina, Calif. South Hills H.S.
Extremely athletic player who has speed and power ... can steal bases, play any position on the field ... has home run power ... can drag bunt for a base hit ... has so much upside.
So. R/R 5-6 Mission Viejo, Calif. Capistrano Valley H.S.
Pac-12 All-Freshman Team Honorable Mention selection ... third on the team with nine doubles in 2012 ... played in all 56 games with 53 starts during freshman year ... has power, but will also hit for average ... left-handed hitter who runs well and is a triple-threat at the plate ... top three on the team with her speed.
So. R/R 5-8 Stansbury Park, Utah Tooele H.S.
Started 19 games for the Utes either in the outfield or as the designated player during freshman season ... drove in five runs with three hits, two home runs, against Rider (2/25/12) ... has a lot of power, but tends to hit more on a line gap to gap ... great arm and runs well.
So. R/R 5-7 Cottonwood Heights, Utah Brighton H.S.
Can play anywhere on the field ... a fast player who will steal bases ... has an extremely lively arm ... phenomenal power at the plate ... first swing as a Ute this fall was a home run ... a fun, loose player.
Jr. R/R 5-3 South Jordan, Utah Bingham H.S.
Owns 78 career starts in first two seasons as a Ute, mainly in center field ... made first three career starts at catcher during UCLA series (4/20/12 through 4/14/12) ... complete five-tool player ... told her family that she wanted to be on the Utah Softball team when she was four years old ... gutty player with a `never say die' attitude ... always looking to take the next base ... plays the game hard.
Jr. R/R 5-3 Riverton, Utah Salt Lake Community College
Exciting to watch on the bases ... feels the game really well and is very easy to coach ... will impress you with her speed and arm ... does a great job in the classroom and is a great teammate.