Utes look to double their pleasure against Rebels, Aztecs

The conference season is starting and the U softball team can consider it a fresh start, since its record over the first half of the season has no bearing on the conference standings.

Utah begins the season by playing a doubleheader against UNLV on Friday at 1:30 p.m. and then a doubleheader against San Diego State Saturday at noon.

Coach Mona Stevens compared the team’s situation to new U basketball coach Ray Giacoletti’s in Eastern Washington.

“[Wednesday] in the press conference when they announced Ray Giacoletti as the head coach, I noted something about him that was just like our situation,” Stevens said. “When he was at Eastern Washington this year, his team had a really tough preseason and they lost a lot of games to tough teams. But they pulled it together and won the conference to get into the NCAAs.”

That is the exact path the Utes must follow in order to get into the NCAAs.

“For us to get into the NCAAs, we will have to win our conference tournament,” Stevens said.

The advantage the team may have over past Ute squads is that they may actually get to play all their home games.

Usually, weather concerns have canceled games and because of scheduling issues, games cannot be made up.

When the home games are canceled, the Utes only get to play some conference opponents on the road.

“It’s really tough because it’s obvious that teams play better at home than they do on the road,” Stevens said.

“It’s tough to make ground in the conference race when you don’t get to play all your home games.”

The team the Utes usually never play at home is San Diego State, which is usually near the top of the conference standings every year.

“We haven’t been able to play them at home for two years,” Stevens said.

But before the Utes get to play a doubleheader against San Diego State, UNLV is on tap. The Rebels look like a different team this year with a new coach.

“They looked like an improved team with their new coach, Lonnie Alameda,” Stevens said.

“They will be more difficult than they have been in the past years.”

The Rebels began a series with BYU Thursday afternoon and are 17-21 on the year.

UNLV has kept games close all year long and they should be able to keep it close against Utah.

“They are going to be scrappy and tough to play,” Stevens said.

The real test for the Utes over the weekend will be the Aztecs, who won the conference championship last year.

Just like Utah and many other MWC teams, the Aztecs had a tough schedule over the first half of the season, but they did well.

They are 21-16 and have played 13 games against ranked opponents.

“They have had a tough schedule and done well and they have really good pitching this year, so they will be a good test,” Stevens said.

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