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

As a result of its on-field success, the Wolverines saw six players named to all-conference teams — a group that was led by unanimous first team selection Amanda Robinson. A senior first baseman, Robinson batted .351 last season and led the team in home runs with seven. She is just three homers and 40 hits shy of claiming the all-time program record in both categories.

Three other all-conference performers, all juniors, are back for Utah Valley: catcher Jamie North (second team), outfielder Kelli Fox (honorable mention) and pitcher Josi Summers (honorable mention).

Robinson and Summers were named to the Preseason All-WAC team on Jan. 28.

"We have a really strong core of returners and they are a group that have really taken the newcomers under their wing and shown them the ropes," Palmer said. "They know how to win and what it takes to win and they are teaching our younger kids those important lessons.

"I expect our veterans to be key contributors both offensively and defensively."

Still, having brought in eight newcomers with her first recruiting class at Utah Valley, Palmer knows the youth of her team will have to step up as well.

"We could have at least three newcomers on the field to start every game and probably hitting toward the top of the lineup as well," she said. "We'll need them to contribute as well and I know they can. I'm looking forward to seeing how our new girls develop this year."

The club's top returning pitcher after a 13-7 mark and 2.28 ERA last year, Summers heads up a large UVU pitching staff complete with five strong arms. Joining the Temecula, Utah, native are newcomers Kelsey Lawton (Goodyear, Ariz.), Kailey Christensen (Spanish Fork, Utah/SLCC) and Bailey Moore (Ely, Nevada). Senior outfielder Dara Rahm, formerly Dara Kosanke, will also see some time in the circle this season.

"Five pitchers is quite a few for a collegiate softball program," Palmer said of her pitching staff. "But I think all five of them can be huge contributors. They're powerful in the circle and can move the ball around well, so that competition within our own staff should work in favor of the team as a whole this year."

Completing the battery, catchers Kendal Powell and Rachel Schoonmaker join North behind the plate. Powell is a true freshman from Hemet, Calif., while Schoonmaker — a Lone Peak High School product — makes her debut at Utah Valley as a junior by way of Pratt CC.

Around the infield Palmer will rely on her strength at the corners, anchored by first baseman Robinson and third baseman Debra Lovell. The third and final senior on the UVU squad, Lovell, batted .259 last year and drove in 22 runs. She set off one of the Wolverines' highlight moments in 2013 when her walk-off, two-run shot lifted UVU to a 6-4 win over BYU. Courtney Starks, a true freshman out of Syracuse, Utah, could also see some time at first base this season.

Sophomore Morgan Summers, sister of pitcher Josi, is expected to occupy the second base spot where she spent much of last season. Offensively, Summers batted .286 with 20 runs and seven stolen bases a year ago. True freshman Brittney Vansway (Irvine, Calif.) is expected to see opening day at shortstop, while freshman Megan Ventura (Provo, Utah) is also capable of filling a spot in the middle infield.

"Brittney (Vansway) is very athletic and doesn't play like a freshman," Palmer said. "She covers a lot of ground on the defensive side and can be huge on the offensive side. She was very impressive in winning that job over quite a few players that wanted it."

Junior Fox, a .272 hitter in 2013, will patrol center field for Palmer, with other outfield spots potentially being filled by JC transfer Erin Romero (Taylorsville, Utah/Southern Nevada), Josie Flores (Modesto Calif.), Schoonmaker, Rahm and others. Freshmen Hailey Kofler (Temecula, Calif.) and Brianna Gatlin (La Quinta, Calif.), as well as sophomore Dynasty Lauvai, have been labled utility players for this year's Wolverine squad, capable of filling a variety of gaps on the defensive side.

The Red Desert Classic is one of three invitationals in which the Wolverines will compete in the early season. From St. George, UVU heads to Las Vegas for the Easton Desert Classic next week and wraps up the month of February at the Mayfair Invitational in Long Beach, Calif. UVU will face the likes of UNLV and Ohio State in Vegas before going toe-to-toe with Ilinois, Oregon State and No. 5 Michigan.

Kellen Hiser is an assistant sports information director at Utah Valley University. For more information on Wolverine athletics, visit WolverineGreen.com.