Ute softball team prepares for difficult transition

Following a conference tournament championship and an NCAA tournament berth in 2004, the Ute softball team will look to bolster the offense and ride the arms of a talented staff in 2005.

Ninth-year coach Mona Stevens anticipates a difficult transition, but says she believes that the pieces are in place for growth this season.

“We are a solid team, and I think that our finish in 2004 showed that,” Stevens said. “We’re determined to build on that this year.”

Returning hurler Brianna Gourdin took home the Mountain West Conference tournament MVP award, and will try to improve upon her success from last year (18 wins, 2.81 ERA).

Though she was sporadically injured throughout the season, her play down the stretch contributed heavily to the Utes’ late-season surge.

A healthy Gourdin leads what is expected to be a solid staff that includes sophomore Samantha Schroeder and promising juco transfer Lindsie Nielsen.

Schroeder tries to fluster opposing hitters by providing a stark contrast to Gourdin.

“Sam is completely different from Brianna,” said Stevens. “She throws hard, but also has a deceptive change-up that will fool you time and again.”

Without support, however, it won’t matter how effective the staff is. The Utes slugged their way to wins and stumbled offensively in losses last year.

Despite leading the MWC in home runs, the Utes failed to piece together rallies with any sort of consistency, and consequently their level of play varied a great deal throughout a rocky 23-33 regular season.

Adding to doubts is the departure of all-West region infielders Glennis Donnelley and Melissa Stahnke.

Their absences may not be too conspicuous if expectations for sophomore Devina Quintero (.325 avg., 13 home runs) and freshman defensive standout Sharee Fonoti comes to fruition. Any doubts about their abilities were erased in the fall.

“Devina and Sharee met every expectation I have of a junior and senior year player,” Stevens said. “I believe we have one of the best left sides [of the infield] in the conference.”

Bryanne Durrence and Kate Nygaard will split time at catcher, with Nygaard appearing as designated hitter on off days behind the plate.

The outfield will benefit from the return of three starters, each of whom boasts ample defensive prowess.

Two-time, all-conference performer Lynsey Wall provides versatility for the Utes. She helps anchor a lineup that hopes maintain the explosiveness that marked the Utes last year, but recognizes that it needs to focus more on moving runners and generating runs without power.

“We’ll look different offensively this year, we’re still going to have power and quickness, but we’re also going to add speed to our lineup,” Stevens said.

The non-conference schedule portends a rocky road for the developing Utes, with games against defending champions UCLA and highly regarded programs such as Stanford, Florida State, Texas A&M and Fresno State.

“We tried to balance the schedule so it builds confidence while giving us experience against top teams,” Stevens said.

The Utes open the season Friday at the BYU/UVSC Tournament in St. George, Utah. From there they will brave a difficult non-conference schedule before conference action begins against BYU on April 2.

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Upcoming Utah Softball Schedule:

2/4-2/5 BYU/UVSC Tourn. 3 games2/10 @Southern Utah 1 game2/11-2/13 Louisville Desert Classic 5 games2/17-2/20 Campbell/Cartier Tourn. 5 games2/25-2/27 Palm Springs Classic 5 games3/4-3/6 Texas A&M Tourn. 5 games3/15 Southern Utah 1 game3/17 Iowa (@Stockton, Calif.) 1 game3/19-3/20 Stanford Tourn. 4 games3/25-26 Utah Tourn. 2 games3/30 Utah St. 1 game