Ivette Hernandez and the Utah softball team begin the 2006 season in Las Cruces, N.M., this weekend.
Feb. 8, 2006
This Week: The University of Utah softball team (0-0 overall) begins the 2006 campaign with a five-game slate on the campus of New Mexico State University. The Hilton Las Cruces Invitational marks the season-opener for all six teams involved. Tourney play begins on Friday, Feb. 10, against Colorado State (9 a.m.) and New Mexico State (4:30 p.m.). Another doubleheader is on tap for Saturday, Feb. 11, as Utah plays Portland State (9 a.m.) and University of Texas-San Antonio (11:30 a.m.). Action wraps up when Utah plays Ohio State on Sunday, Feb. 12, at 9 a.m.
Outlook - The Utes return eight letterwinners and five starters from the 2005 team that went 21-29 overall. It finished fourth in the Mountain West Conference, going 6-12 in league play.
Among the returnees are Utah's top three hitters from a season ago. Outfielder Diana Phillips led all Utes, batting .309. Junior third baseman Devina Quintero hit .305 while Ivette Hernandez (.303) is back for her senior year at first base. Both Phillips and Hernandez were all-conference last season.
The Utes' roster boasts four pitchers, only one of which is returning. Lindsie Nielsen finished the 2005 campaign as Utah's No. 1 hurler, going 10-14 with a 3.20 earned-run average. Three junior college transfers round out the pitching staff.
Seven newcomers are also on the 2006 roster. Redshirt freshman Staci Hemingway is joined by true freshmen Hailey Davenport, Andrea Hoffman and Jessica Shiery. Three junior college transfers will also don Ute uniforms for the first time this season. Hurlers Karina Cannon, Meghan Dyer and Sheri Shrock will all see time in the circle this year.
Happy Trails - The Utes begin a string of games that sees them playing 25 straight on the road. After the Hilton Las Cruces Invitational, the Utes play multi-game tournaments in Las Vegas, Nev., El Paso, Texas, Tallahassee, Fla., and Fullerton, Calif. Their first home date isn't until March 24 when they host the Utah Invitational.
I Know You! - The Utes will be seeing one familiar foe in their opening weekend. Utah will begin the 2006 season with a date against fellow conference member Colorado State. It lost to the Rams in all three meetings in 2005. While they are Mountain West Conference members, this first meeting is considered a non-conference tilt.
Haven't We Met Before? - The Utes will see two teams from this weekend in games later this season. Utah still has three other dates with New Mexico State (2/25, 2/26 and 4/30) and has one other game slated with Portland State on March 25.
They're Back -The 2006 roster is boosted by the return of two all-conference picks. Diana Phillips won all-conference honors as a freshman. She led the 2005 squad in hitting .309 for the year. In conference games, the center fielder hit .411. Joining Phillips on the all-conference team was Ivette Hernandez. The first baseman led the team with nine home runs and 14 extra-base hits.
Armed and Dangerous - The Utes bolstered their pitching staff in the offseason, adding three new hurlers to the mix. Lindsie Nielsen (10-14, 3.20 ERA) is the lone returnee from the 2005 two-man staff. Joining her are junior college transfers Karina Cannon, Meghan Dyer, and Sheri Shrock.
Time-Tested Vets - Utah returns all four infielders from its 2005 squad. A pair of seniors in Ivette Hernandez (first base) and Jackie Wong (second base) man the right side while junior Devina Quintero (third base) and sophomore Sharee Fonoti patrol the left side.
At the Helm - The University of Utah softball team is under the direction of Interim Co-Head Coaches Marianne Bullis and Kyle Magnusson. This is the first stint as head coach for Bullis and Magnusson. Bullis is in her fourth year on the Ute coaching staff while Magnusson is in his second. A search for a full-time head coach will commence at the end of the season.
Preseason Prognosticators - The Utes were picked to finish fifth in the league, according to the preseason coaches poll. Utah earned eight points, one better than sixth-place New Mexico. Brigham Young's 23 points and three first-place votes were good enough for first. Rounding out the rest of the poll is UNLV (22 points, three first-place nods), San Diego State (16), Colorado State (14), Utah (8) and New Mexico (7).
On Deck - The Utes remain on the road, this time at the Louisville Slugger Desert Classic in Las Vegas, Nev. The Utes will play Wright State, Hawaii, Illinois and Cal Poly between Feb. 17-18. Utah will then return to the deep south for the UTEP Invitational from Feb. 24-26.