UVU softball: Wolverine softball team looks to make greater strides in 2013

By Kellen Hiser

For the Deseret News

Published: Tuesday, Feb. 5 2013 5:20 p.m. MST

UVU outfielder Amanda Robinson.

David Shackelford

Enlarge photo»

OREM — On paper, the Utah Valley University softball team appears a familiar one from a season ago.

That squad finished 2012 with 33 wins — the most in UVU's NCAA Division I era — and grabbed a tie for second place in the Pacific Coast Softball Conference's Mountain Division.

Fourteen letterwinners and six starters return from that team, poised to play a schedule that bears a marked resemblance to last season's slate. But beneath all the outward familiarity lies some subtle newness — a challenge the Wolverines are eager to embrace this season.

The primary discrepancy comes at the head coach spot. Fourteen-year head coach Todd Fairbourne, who brought the institution its only national championship when his 2000 squad captured the NJCAA crown, stepped down following the 2012 season. Taking the reins from the former Mountain Division Coach of the Year is Rachel Hartgrove, a longtime assistant and former shortstop for the Wolverines.

By promoting Hartgrove, the lineup card remains in the hands of someone familiar and intimately connected with the UVU program.

"This is one of the best group of kids I've ever been able to coach," Hartgrove said. "They've all bought into the goals we've established for the program and take a `no fear' attitude out onto the field."

Joining Hartgrove are first-year assistants Josh Musselman (Antioch-Los Angeles '07) and Tara Bendt (UNLV '12).

"It's a different atmosphere here than what we had before," said Hartgrove of the shift in coaching staff. "Maybe it's a little more relaxed, and I think that comes with confidence and experience. With so many returners we've had a lot of solid leadership carrying through this transition, particularly from our five seniors.

"That being said, we expect this to be our program's best all-around team."

Headlining the returning members are 2012 First Team All-PCSC performers Tiffany Mills and Jamie North. A senior pitcher from Riverside, Calif., Mills rewrote the single-season record book in 2012, setting program marks in wins (18), ERA (2.57), strikeouts (162), innings pitched (234.1) shutouts (4) and saves (8). Her eight saves were good for third in the country in 2012.

North, a sophomore catcher from Placentia, Calif., garnered First Team accolades after batting .356 in PCSC play. A .300 hitter overall last season, North will likely fit alongside teammates Amanda Robinson and Krystin Jachim in the heart of the order.

"Jamie was a clutch hitter for us last season and into the fall," Hartgrove said. "Whenever we need a big hit, she usually comes up with it. I'm looking forward to seeing her bat and defensive consistency behind the plate continue to develop this season."

Robinson, a junior who will move from outfield to first base this season, belted single-season school record 13 home runs a year ago to go along with a .301 average and team-high 40 RBIs. The only other Wolverine to reach double-digit home runs was Jachim, a senior shortstop from Roy, Utah. Her 11 homers and .309 batting average helped her earn Honorable Mention All-PCSC honors.

Other key returners include outfielders Kylee Brinkerhoff, whose .316 batting average led the team a season ago, and Marie Williams, a Second Team All-PCSC performer.

Josi Summers, a sophomore from Tremonton, Utah, will bolster the UVU pitching staff as she returns from a redshirt last season. As a true freshman, Summers picked up a then single-season record 14 wins and will look to team up with Mills as the Wolverines' one-two punch from the circle.

Relievers Cassie Herrera, second team All-PCSC last season, and Megan Peay round out the UVU pitching staff.

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