Feb. 7, 2013
DAVIS, Calif. -
This Week’s Games (No. 1-5) at the Fresno State Kick-Off
(Bulldog Diamond in Fresno, Calif.)
UC Davis Aggies vs. UTEP Miners – 8:15 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 10
UC Davis Aggies vs. Southern Miss Golden Eagles – 11:15 a.m.
UC Davis Aggies vs. Sacramento State Hornets – 1:30 p.m.
DAVIS, Calif. – Last season, UC Davis was one of four teams that entered the final week of the 2012 season with a shot at ending its season as Big West Conference Champions. Falling short of their ultimate goal, the Aggies have been working hard, recruiting strategically and preparing themselves for the upcoming season — another chance to return the conference crown back to Davis.
That opportunity begins Friday morning at the Fresno State Kick-Off when UC Davis faces Southern Miss in a 9 a.m. non-conference contest in its season opener at Bulldog Diamond in Fresno, Calif.
Friday’s matchup will also mark the start of a challenging non-conference schedule that includes 26 road games out of the first 29 games played.
“I tell my recruits that I create as challenging a schedule as possible. We face top-caliber teams like Stanford and Cal, and travel to face tough out-of-region teams at the tournaments we travel to,” explained head coach Karen Yoder.
“By playing in all types of climates, against teams we may face at a postseason regional, my team already has the experience needed to successfully face any team or challenge.”
Scheduling aside, the depth that is present on this year’s roster alone is enough to contend for a postseason berth. With a potent combination of raw athleticism displayed by incoming recruits and transfers, maturity and experience possessed by her upperclassmen, Yoder’s scheduling strategy may ultimately pay dividends throughout the final weeks of the season.
Unlike other softball teams that craft a starting lineup that rarely changes, if ever unless an injury were to occur, Yoder drafts a depth chart for every position around the diamond.
Not only does this strategy encourage student-athletes to challenge one another for a coveted spot in the starting lineup, this allows the Aggies to field an ever-changing starting nine that is adjusted in specific spots depending on their opponent.
“My depth chart is fluid and changes weekly, my players know where they stand at all times with regard to their position, or as the designated player” said Yoder.
A junior transfer from Utah State, Krista Bava is one of eight players vying for one of three coveted spots in the outfield this season. Throughout the fall season, and spring practices, competition has been fierce as seniors JJ Wagoner, Megan Guzman and sophomore Cassandra Ginnis, a returning starter, will battle Bava, redshirt freshman Jasmine Lee and a talented group of newcomers throughout the season for playing time.
“We are so talented in the outfield, players will be called upon in different situations. I will ask players to pinch hit, pinch run and share time in the grass because of our speed and our depth,” said Yoder.
The Aggies’ depth chart is also challenging student-athletes in unique ways; sophomore Kayla Tyler has been training all fall and winter to sharpen her skills as both a third baseman and shortstop to provide UC Davis’ lineup with an additional layer of flexibility.
Challenging Nunez for playing time at first is junior Jessica Barrett. Transferring to UC Davis from West Valley College, Barrett was a member of Colorado State’s 2011 softball roster before returning to Northern California last season.
Also transferring to UC Davis this season, and expected to compete against Wagner at second is Kimberly Pena. A second-team All-South Coast Conference honoree, Pena helped Mt. SAC compile a 33-5 overall record and 19-2 conference mark last season.
Freshman Christina Guidry is one newcomer that has made an immediate impact at third base in the practices leading up to Friday’s season opener, as has Janelle Gusiff who also trains on the left side of the infield. Christa Costello is another incoming freshman who has successfully adjusted to the transition from high school to Division I softball and is expected to challenge for time as the Aggies’ shortstop.
To have a chance of earning a coveted postseason berth at one of the 16 regionals, let alone a shot at winning a conference title, a softball team needs pitchers with durable arms and an arsenal of pitches to choose from.
Led by sophomore Justine Vela, last season’s Big West Freshman Pitcher of the Year, Conference Pitcher of the Year and All-Big West First Team selection, and three-year letterwinner Jessica Thweatt, the Aggies possess the starting rotation needed to make a legitimate run at the conference championship once again.
With freshman left-hander Leah Munden and first-year right-hander Marissa Chapa joining an already dangerous pitching roster as the team’s primary relief pitchers, Aggie arms will be as fresh as possible when entering the final weeks of the season.
“We have four different pitchers that bring four different dimensions, having four pitchers of that quality will only make our pitching staff stronger,” Yoder said.
Expected to complete UC Davis’ battery and split time behind the dish is junior Kelly Schulze and Wagoner; as is the case with Tyler, Schulze and Wagoner’s fielding skills and speed enables the pair to play multiple positions and provide yet another unique element to this year’s team.
Another first-team all-conference recipient joining the Aggies from Hancock College this season is Caitlin Voss. A .320 hitter and all-Southern California honoree with the Bulldogs, Voss highlights the depth the Aggies possess this year at all nine positions.
As is the case with every newcomer to the team, Voss possesses the skills and talent to challenge the corps of Aggie incumbents for playing time and a spot in the starting lineup.
With that much talent challenging one another on an everyday basis, the enthusiasm and energy that permeates the entire program is an authentic indication of the expectations this team possesses entering Friday’s season opener against Southern Miss.
Even though the Aggies fell two games shy of achieving their ultimate goal last season, this year’s team genuinely believes that the 2013 season will end in a more positive manner.
Adds Yoder: “I think some players underachieved last year offensively, have been working hard ever since and will definitely make a positive impact this season. They are smarter, have been studying film, eliminated holes in their swing and have been focusing on their strengths.
“By bringing in the right players, practices have been a lot more competitive this season. With the amount of speed we possess, singles can turn into doubles, runners on first can easily end up on third. As is the case with our defense, our lineup is just as deep.”
Wednesday, Feb. 13, is the first chance UC Davis softball fans will have to witness their team in action when Cal visits La Rue Field in the Aggies’ home opener.
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