Softball team looks to fill voids left by old players

The+Utah+softball+infield+huddles+at+a+game+last+fall.+This+year+the+Utes%0Aface+the+challange+of+a+new+infield.+Photo+by+Brent+Uberty.

Brent Uberty

The Utah softball infield huddles at a game last fall. This year the Utes face the challange of a new infield. Photo by Brent Uberty.

The Utah softball infield huddles at a game last fall. This year the Utes face the challange of a new infield. Photo by Brent Uberty.
The Utah softball infield huddles at a game last fall. This year the Utes
face the challange of a new infield. Photo by Brent Uberty.
One of the constant challenges in collegiate athletics is replacing athletes as they leave programs because of graduation or other changes. This year, Utah is experiencing that in a big way.
The Utes lost three starters from last season’s infield to graduation. Those key players were Jackie Sweet, Kelsi Hoopiiaina and Katelyn Elliot, who were the starting second baseman, shortstop and first baseman, respectively. In addition, the team has had to temporarily find a replacement at third base, where last season’s starter, Kristen Stewart, is recovering from a broken finger.
“Now we have new kids in those spots that are talented but kind of have to learn our system a little bit,” Utah head coach Amy Hogue said.
During the Utes’ first five games of the campaign last weekend, they had no problems on offense, scoring 36 runs. The team’s defense was a different story, though, as Utah committed 10 errors and allowed 33 runs en route to two wins and three losses.
Clearly, the void left by the departures of Sweet, Hoopiiaina and Elliot was noticed. The trio turned 42 double plays in 2013.
“We got to the point where we didn’t really have to coach them very much,” Hogue said. “They knew everything we had slated for them to do, so they kinda ran the show out there.”
Filling these roles is Hogue’s first priority. She has had to look for qualities of a good infield player among the seven new players on her roster this season. These characteristics include having good feet and a strong arm.
“We play defense with our feet,” Hogue said. “If your feet are good, it makes your job with your hands really easy.”
Some players have shown promise in preseason practice and in the early part of regular season play. In particular, freshman Hannah Flippen has cemented her spot as the starting second baseman. The other spots are a revolving door right now, as Bridget Castro and Anissa Urtez are in the running to play shortstop. Castro and junior Kate Dickman have seen time at first base. Filling in for Stewart at third base have been Urtez and senior Taylor Jordan.
Team captain Dickman has taken on a lot of responsibility this season, which is her first as an infielder.
“You’re literally in every play,” she said about playing the infield. “You get to touch the ball a lot more. It’s more fun.”
Hogue emphasized the fact that a strong infield is crucial since the bases and mound are closer to one another on a softball diamond than on a baseball one. Because of the proximity, mistakes carry heavier consequences.
“One bobble makes the difference,” Hogue said. “No one is out if you bobble the ball.”
[email protected]