U softball opens MWC play on the road

By By Tom Quinn

By Tom Quinn

After an impressive preseason that included a seven-game unbeaten streak and a win over the nationally ranked Texas Longhorns, the U softball team is finally set to begin its conference schedule.

The reigning MWC-champion Utes, who have yet to play a home game in 2007, will kick off the regular season on the road against UNLV and SDSU. Utah? will face the Rebels in a doubleheader this afternoon and will play a pair? of single games against the Aztecs on Friday and Saturday.

“We’ve been on the road playing non-conference games for eight of the last? nine weeks, so we’re obviously excited to start the conference portion of ?our schedule,” said head coach Angie Jacobs. “We’re looking forward to? playing our conference rivals, especially at home in front of our fans.”?

Although starting the season off with wins over UNLV and SDSU would go a long way toward helping the Utes defend their conference crown, neither team ?is likely to go down without a fight. On the contrary, both the Rebels and? the Aztecs are capable of giving the Utes all they can handle, and more.

UNLV, for example, boasts one of the conference’s top sluggers in two-time? MWC Player of the Week Jaci Hull. Hull, a freshman, presently leads the? team in hitting percentage, hits, runs, doubles and on-base percentage. ?Finally healthy after sitting out 2006 with an injury, Hull has the talent? to challenge any of Utah’s pitchers.

?As far as defense is concerned, the Rebels are lead by hurler Christine? Robinson, a sophomore with a 10-4 record and an impressive 1.89 ERA. Not to? be outdone by Hull, Robinson has a pair of MWC Pitcher of the Week awards to? show for her efforts. ?As good as the Rebels are, the Utes’ true challenge this weekend will come? from San Diego State.

The reigning MWC regular season champion has been ?red-hot over the last few weeks, winning 10 of its last 11 games, four of ?which were against nationally ranked opponents.

Leading the Aztecs is 2006 MWC Pitcher of the Year Christina Ross. Ross, a? junior, boasts a 1.54 ERA and has tallied 118 strikeouts on the season, which puts her near the top of the MWC, second only to Utah’s Meghan Dyer.? SDSU’s lefty pitcher hit another career milestone last weekend, tossing a? perfect game in the Aztecs’ 8-0 win over Brown. Ross dominated the game, striking out six batters en route to her seventh shutout of the season.

Offensively, the Aztecs live and die by the bat of sophomore Melissa Owens, who leads the team with a .388 batting average. Although she put together ?an impressive .429 batting average against the MWC as a freshman, Owens has? never tallied a hit against the Utes, and will undoubtedly be looking to ?make up for lost time this weekend.

While SDSU is considered by many to be the best team in the conference, Utah’s coaches and players feel like they have enough momentum to challenge? the Aztecs.

“We’re hitting the long ball very well right now,” Jacobs said. “Last week ?we set records for most home runs (six) and most grand slams (two) in a game. ?Right now, we’re looking forward to playing our conference rivals.”

Lisa Teran

Utah softball plays UNLV today as they kick off league play in Las Vegas at 5 p.m.