The BYU softball team looks to its pitchers to be the anchor of the team this season as they move into the Western Athletic Conference and compete for their fourth conference championship in four years.
With a young but talented pitching staff, the Cougars have the potential to be a top 25 contender.
BYU pitching coach Vaughn Alvey said even though his staff is young they have what it takes to be successful this season.
“What we need to do, because we are as young as we are, is make sure that we learn over the course of our preseason how to compete at the highest level,” Alvey said. “It’s easy for pitchers, especially when they’re young, to dwell on their last pitch or the last base hit or the last walk. We don’t have the luxury of doing that. We have to get better pitch by pitch.”
Hannah Howell, a junior from Calvin, La., is the oldest of the bunch. Last year, Howell led the Mountain West Conference in saves and had a season ERA of 2.69. This season she hopes to be a leader on the team and do everything she can to help her team be successful.
[pullquote]”I want to be able to go out there and do what I have to do [with] my role as a pitcher to help the team,”[/pullquote] “I want to be able to go out there and do what I have to do [with] my role as a pitcher to help the team,” Howell said. “Whatever that is, whether that’s starting, being in relief [or]throwing shutouts.”
Howell said she loves the adrenalin of the game and the feeling she gets every time she’s on the mound.
Another pitcher on the staff, Tori Almond, is a sophomore from Sandy. With a successful freshman season under her belt, Almond looks to capitalize on her consistency and experience to make an impact on the team this season.
For her, the best thing about pitching is the pressure of the game.
“I like the pressure,” Almond said. “I like being the one that controls the game [because] what I do controls everything that happens.”
Alvey knows he can rely on Almond to be a strong starter this season.
“Tori’s strength is she has five pitches that she can throw for a strike at any given time,” Alvey said. “She [also] has an off-speed pitch that has to be dealt with.”
Rounding out the staff is newcomer Caroline Umphlett, freshman from Elizabeth City, N.C. Umphlett is coming off a senior season at Northeastern High School where she had an ERA of 0.65 and 176 strikeouts.
She said she grew up watching the great NCAA pitchers and their examples encouraged her to become a pitcher.
“I remember watching the college World Series and seeing Monica Abbott [pitch],” Umphlett said. “She was awesome and I remember thinking ‘I want to do that.’ So I went out in the side yard and just started throwing into a fence.”
After all of that throwing, Umphlett has become one of the fastest arms in college softball, throwing at 70 miles per hour.
Alvey said opposing teams will have a hard time dealing with her speed.
“As hard as Caroline throws, she’s going to surprise some people,” Alvey said. “She can throw one pitch and have an impact on the game because [teams] can’t prepare for 70, especially when it’s breaking down like her pitches.”
For the season, Alvey said he is “cautiously optimistic.” He knows his pitchers have the talent and heart to go far, and with such a combination they’ve just got to go out and perform to the best of their ability.
“If we reach our potential with our pitchers, we could be really good,” Alvey said. “Our pitchers are good. They just have to believe in themselves and then do it on the field.”