Softball: Red Desert Classic kicks off new era

By By Jason Peterson and By Jason Peterson

By Jason Peterson

This weekend’s trip to participate in the Red Desert Classic in St. George will kick off a new era for the U softball team. The Utes are hoping today’s doubleheader against Wisconsin and Rhode Island will be the revival of an old era, one that featured two World Series appearances and a school-record 51 wins in 1994.

Former U All-American standout Amy Hogue is back with the team. Rather than contribute her 0.340 batting average to the lineup or steal second base (she had 72 steals from 1991 to 1994), she will impart her knowledge of the game, as well as an infectious will to win, as the U’s new head coach.

“My experience at Utah as an athlete was picture-perfect,” Hogue said. “I was set up to succeed in every way and that’s the vision that I will have for my athletes…I know we will have a good program.”

Hogue’s accolades go beyond carrying her team to the World Series Championships in 1991 and 1994. The former Utah captain began a successful coaching career at Salt Lake Community College in 1999. Hogue is only the fifth coach in the U’s program, but the third in three years as she replaces Angie Jacobs, who unexpectedly resigned after one season.

Few can be blamed for expecting a massive turnaround after a disappointing 2007 season which saw the Utes finish at 24-25-1 overall and 5-14 in conference play. After all, Hogue has a sparkling 197-82 collegiate coaching record and a lineup of young, promising talent. However, the latter point is exactly the reason she doesn’t expect an overnight overhaul for her club, which plans to start with the basics.

“We are stressing the need to keep it simple,” Hogue said. “This game is about the little things, the fundamentals, understanding the job at hand and getting it done. We want to take steps every day and set goals that may seem small, but if the goal is achieved, it’s a step forward.”

Leading the charge will be Utah’s experienced outfielders. Seniors Diana Phillips, Meghan Crouse and Kelly Matthews headline a starting lineup that returns all but two from last season.

The remaining two of Utah’s five seniors-Kristie Keller and Devina Quintero-provide the Utes with a wealth of experience around the infield. Quintero was third on the team in batting average in 2006. Keller is a former NJCAA All-American transfer who started all 52 games last season.

The rest of the infield will be highlighted by returnees Staci Hemingway, Sharee Fonoti and Kara Foster.

Juniors Hailey Davenport and Andrea Hoffman, who returns from shoulder surgery, will catch for the Utes.

Sophomore Ashley Smuda recently transferred from Temple University where she started 20 games. She will likely be the ace among Utah’s inexperienced pitching staff, perhaps Utah’s most questionable unit. Losing seniors Meghan Dyer and Karina Cannon hurts, but sophomore Haili Squire and freshman Brittany Parker will get their shots on the mound.

Following today’s pair of games, the Utes will play SUU and ISU on Saturday and then close out the tournament on Sunday against Northern Colorado.

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