OREM, Utah — The Utah Valley University softball team gets the 2013 season underway this weekend with a quintet of games at the Red Desert Classic in St. George, Utah. The Wolverines will play a pair of doubleheaders on Friday and Saturday and then wrap up the weekend on Sunday.
On Friday, UVU opens the season against former Great West Conference rival South Dakota at 11 a.m. before clashing with in-state foe Southern Utah at 1:30 p.m.
Saturday's twin bill features another familiar foe in past Pacific Coast Softball Conference member Idaho State at 11 a.m., before a 4 p.m. meeting with Oklahoma State of the Big 12.
Sunday's lone contest comes against Nevada at 11 a.m.
Live scoring of each game is available through WolverineGreen.com.
The Wolverines return 14 players and six starters from a 2012 that won a program-best 33 games last season. Included in those returners are first team All-PCSC performers Tiffany Mills and Jamie North.
At pitcher, the senior Mills set single-season records in wins (18), ERA (2.57), strikeouts (162) and saves (8) last season. North — Mills' battery-mate at catcher — batted .356 in PCSC play as a freshman.
Also returning are a coupe big bats in first baseman Amanda Robinson and shortstop Krystin Jachim. They were the only Wolverines to belt double-digit home runs last season, with a school record 13 coming from Robinson and 11 from Jachim.
Friday's season-opener also marks the first time in 14 seasons that longtime head coach Todd Fairbourne will not be filling out the opening-day lineup card. First-year head coach Rachel Hartgrove, an assistant for 10 years under Fairbourne, has taken the reins of the program following Fairbourne's retirement at the end of the 2012 season.
USD returns 10 letterwinners from last year's 16-39 squad. Highlighting the Coyotes' returners are outfielder Katie Dinning and pitcher Erica Denney. A sophomore from Omaha, Dinning let USD in batting last season with a .284 average and notched a pair of four-hit games. Denney, a senior from Sioux City, Iowa, was the `Yotes top pitcher a season ago, going 10-18 with a 3.47 ERA.
"We are familiar with South Dakota from our Great West days and we know they are a tough team," Hartgrove said. "Playing in the Summit League last season exposed them to some higher quality competition and I'm sure it will be a good matchup to start off the season for us."
UVU is 4-1 all-time against USD. The Wolverines claimed the last meeting 7-6 on March 27, 2010, in Dallas, Tex.
SUU posted a 29-24 record a season ago, including a 15-9 mark in Summit League play. The Thunderbirds return 10 letterwinners and eight starters to this year's team, including senior outfielder Mikkel Griffin. Last season the St. George native led SUU in batting at .404 and also topped the team in home runs with 12 on her way to a Summit League Player of the Year recognition.
"SUU has a very good pitcher in Zimmerman," Hartgrove said. "She's going to make it tough on us and their coaches have done a great job in developing their hitters."
The Wolverines are 6-10-1 all-time against SUU but swept last year's two-game series in early February.
ISU, which will play its first season in the Big Sky Conference this year after spending the previous four as UVU's PCSC divisional rival, went 12-36 last year with a 10th place finish in the league. The Bengals are led by senior Amanda Fitzsimmons — last year's PCSC Mountain Division Player of the Year. Fitzsimmons was a dual threat last season, batting .324 with nine home runs at the plate but also pitching to an 11-13 record and 4.46 ERA from the circle.
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