Feb. 8, 2012
OREM, Utah - Despite 13 newcomers and just five returning players coming back for the Utah Valley University softball team in 2012, 14th year head coach Todd Fairbourne is optimistic and excited to get the new season underway against Southern Utah this weekend in St. George, Utah.
"We've had a lot of bad luck with injuries this offseason but our player's attitudes are still good," Fairbourne said. "The newcomers are coming along and a number of them are going to be players for us. The upside is here. What matters is our PCSC season and when it begins I hope to have a couple of our injured girls back."
The Wolverines will open the year with a two-game series against the Thunderbirds at Dixie State College in St. George. The games will begin at 1 p.m. on both Saturday and Sunday.
UVU finished third in the Pacific Coast Softball Conference Mountain Division with a 12-8 league record a year ago and went 20-30 overall. Fairbourne was also tabbed the PCSC Mountain Division Coach of the Year after he led his team to a strong conference season. Recently the Wolverines were once again tabbed to finish third in their division in the PCSC Preseason Coaches Poll. Defending champion Portland State was selected to repeat, while Northern Colorado was projected to finish second.
"There's something wrong with you if you don't want to win your conference and once again that is our approach," Fairbourne added. "I believe that this team can do it but in the end it doesn't matter what I think, it matters what they think and what they do. We want to go to the NCAA Tournament and that is what we are practicing and preparing for."
The five returning players for UVU this year are seniors Amanda Perez (first base/designated player) and Deianna Russell (catcher), junior Charlee Cisneros (outfield) and sophomores Amanda Robinson (first base/designated player) and Josi Summers (pitcher). Two of the returning players are out with injuries for now however as Summers, the reigning Great West Conference Newcomer of the Year, and Cisneros, a PCSC Honorable Mention selection last year, are currently rehabbing injuries.
"Robinson, Perez and Russell will be our main strengths this year," Fairbourne added. "They all have the ability to be able to get big hits when we need them. They are also all gamers and when the game is on the line they are at their best."
The tandem of Perez, Robinson and Russell will be UVU's very own version of the big three offensively in 2012 as they combined to hit .319, slugged 24 home runs and drove home 108 runs a year ago. Robinson was the PCSC Mountain Division Freshman of the Year last year as well as being member of the conference's first team, while Perez and Russell too were conference first team selections in 2011.
With Summers, UVU's workhorse in the circle a year ago still recovering from back surgery, and freshman Megan Peay (Centerville, Utah/Viewmont HS) nursing an injury as well, Fairbourne will look to two other newcomers to carry the bulk of the pitching load. Junior Tiffany Mills (a transfer from Louisiana-Monroe) and freshman Cassie Herrera (Santa Clarita, Calif./Saugus HS) will be the two that will most likely handle the majority of the pitching duties at the first part of the season.
"We've had some injuries to our pitchers so I expect big things from Tiffany Mills. She will make us better in the circle," said Fairbourne. "I also anticipate that Cassie Herrera will see plenty of time at pitcher for us, as both Summers and Peay are out for now."
In the infield Fairbourne will look for an immediate impact from newcomers Breanna English (a sophomore from the University of La Verne), Krystin Jachim (a junior from Salt Lake Community College), and Jessica Uresti (a freshman from Payson, Utah/Payson HS). English, Jachim and Uresti will most likely start the year at third base, shortstop and second base respectively. Mainstays Perez and Robinson will alternate time between first base and designated player and Russell will be behind the plate.
Behind the aforementioned players around the infield, freshmen Stephanie Likos (St. George, Utah/Snow Canyon HS) will challenge at first base, Jamie North (Placentia, Calif./Valencia HS) will see time at catcher and Kelli Smart (Tremonton, Utah/Bear River HS) will look for time at third.
In the outfield Junior College transfers Kylee Brinkerhoff, a junior from Salt Lake Community College and the younger sister of former Wolverine baseball star Jace Brinkerhoff, and Marie Williams, a junior from the College of Southern Idaho, will see plenty of time. Freshmen Maddy Schulz (Vernal, Utah/Uintah HS) and Kelli Fox (Bountiful, Utah/Woods Cross HS) as well as others will also see action at outfield.
After this weekend's competition, UVU will head to Los Angeles, Calif., to play a four-game series at Loyola Marymount on Feb. 18 and 19. The Lions are also a member of the PCSC but they play in the Coastal Division and were recently selected to win their division in the preseason poll.
Utah Valley's first home game of the season will then come on March 28, when the Wolverines begin a 12-game homestand against UMKC. UVU's season will then culminate with the PCSC Championships on May 11 and 12.