The women’s softball players will get their feet back in the dirt this weekend at the Red Desert Classic opening tournament this weekend.
The team will play five games in its new home in the Pacific Coast Softball Conference against Colorado State, Seattle, Nevada, Tennessee and Idaho State. They will be held Feb. 7–9 at the Canyons Complex in St. George.
“We have a target on our back,” senior shortstop, JC Clayton, said in reference to BYU’s number one rank in the PCSC pre-season poll. “We know we are better than the other teams, we just have to prove it.”
BYU coaches and players agree their biggest competition will be Tennessee, who was recently ranked fifth in the 2013 pre-season ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 Poll. Tennessee players also grabbed four spots on the Top 50 “Watch List” on the 2013 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year. BYU has yet to beat Tennessee, but plans on taking it one pitch and one inning at a time.
“We don’t want to get hyped up over one game versus another, but it is Tennessee,” Clayton said. “They have the name (and) the numbers, so I think everyone will be more excited to play them. Hopefully it will bring our level of competition up and we will play them match to match.”
Clayton was also ranked in the “Top 50 “Watch List” and rightly so. Clayton will provide power and strength to both the Cougar offensive and defensive lineups. Last year alone she had a .405 batting average, participated in 28 double plays and had 86 put-outs.
Head Coach Gordon Eakin believes the strength of their offensive lineup, including Clayton, Bailie Hicken, Marissa “Gordy” Bravo, Katie Manuma, Lacey Millett and Carly Duckworth, is promising against Tennessee’s impressive pitching staff.
“We are going to have to play a great game,” Eakin said. “We will try to play to our strengths, and show up to out play them.”
New freshmen, a transfer and a new season shook things up for the team. The competition is high because the players have worked a little harder for their positions, but will not find out who starts until game day.
“It is exciting and stressful at some times,” senior pitcher Hannah Howell said. “You have to just keep working hard. But as a team, we have to get people in positions so that we are playing the best that we can.”
All returning pitchers including Howell, junior Tori Almond and sophomore Carolyn Umphlett step back into the circle this tournament, although it is still undecided who will start against Colorado State. Similarly, it is undecided who will be behind the plate as the Cougars have five able catchers looking for the position — Jenna Goar, Anna Hudson, Megan Arnold, Mylee Davis (SLCC transfer) and Coryn Tauali’i.
“That is our biggest issue right now,” Eakin said. “‘Who is going to step up and be our number one catcher?'”
After a long and challenging winter restricted to the turf inside the IPF, the women were able to squeeze in a practice on the dirt before this weekend’s games. The team ditched Provo’s frosted earth and headed down to St. George to lace up their cleats, hit live, throw off the mound and put some balls in the dirt all for the first time since fall-ball.
A full tournament schedule can be found online at the BYU softball website http://byucougars.com/schedule/w-softball.