The BYU softball team has taken the diamond a bit early this season, beginning its quest for a seventh conference championship in the Kajikawa Classic.
“We’re excited to be outside in February,” head coach Gordon Eakin said. “It’s a big advantage to be able to be on dirt for the first tournament.”
The softball team’s history doesn’t indicate that it needs any extra advantage; it has already established itself as a powerful competitor. The Cougars are six-time consecutive conference champions, taking the title despite switching conferences every year between 2011 and 2014. The team is primed for a seventh victory now that it’s settled in the West Coast Conference.
The team’s top six hitters are all returning for the 2015 season. Sydney Broderick led the team with a season batting average of .360, followed closely by McKenzie St. Clair (.350), Lauren Bell (.329), Mercedes O’Connor (.326), Gordy Bravo (.309) and Megan Arnold (.283). Pitcher McKenna Bull also returns this season after a strong freshman year, in which she earned a team-high 206 strikeouts and maintained a 3.15 earned running average.
The Cougars’ talent this year is abundant and well distributed across the entire roster, according to Eakin.
“We have a very deep team with the ability to move players in and out without losing a lot,” Eakin said.
Eakin highlighted sophomores Lauren Bell and Ashley Thompson specifically for the ability to move around as needed. Bell starts at shortstop but can take over second base, and Thompson plays first base and pitches.
Underclassmen like Bell and Thompson dominate softball’s roster, as 14 of the 18 current players are freshmen and sophomores. The athletes see this as an opportunity to prove themselves, not as a disadvantage against older teams.
“It just means that everyone has to step it up a little bit earlier,” Thompson said. “You don’t have the upperclassmen to lead the way. You’ve got to do it yourself.”
Preseason training has allowed the team to develop even more, and the coaches are pleased about the team’s readiness for upcoming tournaments.
“We’re ahead of where we were last year at this point,” Eakin said. “If we can get better every day, every game that we play, every practice that we participate in, then we know at the end of the year that we’re going to be where we need to be.”
The Cougars’ first preseason tournament was Feb. 5–7, in Tempe, Arizona. Wins against New Mexico and the University of New Mexico highlighted the tournament.
They followed that performance up by winning four out of five games in the Wilson/DeMarini Desert Classic in Las Vegas, beating Hawaii, Northwestern, UNLV and UTEP.
The team will participate in four more tournaments before its first home game against Oklahoma State on March 20, at Gail Miller Field. Conference play begins April 3 away at St. Mary’s.
The players don’t feel pressured by the team’s past successes in the conference; but their own goals provide plenty of motivation to last throughout the season.
“We want to compete in every game,” Bravo said. “We expect to win every game.”