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UVU softball: Wolverines season gets underway Friday at Red Desert Classic

By Kellen Hiser

For the Deseret News

Published: Thursday, Feb. 6 2014 2:38 p.m. MST

The 2014 Utah Valley University softball season officially gets underway Friday when the Wolverines make their debut at the Red Desert Classic at The Canyons Softball Complex in St. George, Utah. UVU will play five games over three days, beginning with a 4 p.m. MT Friday tilt against regional foe Idaho State.

Live stats for all five games over the weekend are available on UVU's website. The weekend schedule also includes a pair of doubleheaders as the Wolverines meet Nebraska-Omaha (1:30 p.m.) and Weber State (4 p.m.) on Saturday, and then UT Arlington (11 a.m.) and Nevada (1:30 p.m.) on Sunday.

"I love the competition that we're going to face at the Red Desert Classic this weekend," first-year UVU head coach Nikki Palmer said. "Our opponents are going to challenge us right away. Idaho State is a great opponent to open up with after having been tabbed the Big Sky Conference preseason favorite. Our girls are just ready to get on the field and start working towards our big goals this season."

Friday's meeting with ISU is the first of three this season between the Wolverines and Bengals. The two programs will meet again in Orem on March 25 before wrapping up the season series on April 15 in Pocatello. UVU split last season's series with the Big Sky Conference foe, avenging an 8-6 loss at Wolverine Field with a 3-0 victory at ISU.

The Bengals went 29-23 last season and claimed the Big Sky title with a 14-4 conference mark, but they missed out on the NCAA Regionals after suffering a loss to Southern Utah in the semifinals of the conference tournament. Ten starters return from that title winning squad, headlined by junior catcher Vicky Galasso. The reigning Big Sky Player of the Year, Galasso, batted .461 with 18 home runs and 60 RBIs in 2013. Teammate Maddy Hickman, a sophomore infielder who batted .353 a season ago, was named Big Sky Freshman of the Year. As a team, the high-powered Bengals offense finished the 2013 season ranked fifth in the nation in slugging percentage (.552), seventh in home runs (1.5 per game) and eighth in batting average (.329).

Meanwhile, Omaha comes into opening weekend off a 36-7 overall record last season and a second-place finish in the Summit League. The Mavericks are former Great West Conference rivals to the Wolverines, that latter of whom hold a 2-1 edge overall in the series.

In-state rival Weber State went 10-38 overall and 5-13 in the Big Sky last season. Palmer was an assistant for the Wildcats last season. UVU and WSU will meet again in late March with a doubleheader in Ogden.

Former members of the WAC, the Mavericks of UT Arlington posted a 25-28 record last season and advanced to the WAC Tournament. This year, the Mavs compete in the Sun Belt Conference, their third league in as many years.

Lastly, Nevada awaits the Wolverines at the Red Desert Classic for the second straight year. The Wolf Pack finished 2013 with a 30-23 record, including an 11-1 loss at the hands of Utah Valley in St. George. Nevada was picked to finish sixth in the Mountain West Conference this year.

About Utah Valley

Utah Valley makes its way into the 2014 on the heels of a record-setting year last season. For the second straight year, the Wolverines set a program mark for wins after going 35-20 in 2013, including victories over eventual WAC champion San Jose State, Oklahoma State of the Big 12, Arkansas of the SEC and crosstown rival BYU. UVU finished third in its final year with the Pacific Coast Softball Conference with a 14-10 record and entered the final weekend with a PCSC title, and its accompanying NCAA bid, still in play.

"The team has very high expectations this season," Palmer said. "They mapped out their goals for the season at our team retreat and one of those goals was to top our wins record for the third straight year. We think we have the talent to accomplish that goal and to give the previous seasons' records a run for their money."