Courtesy: SUU Media Relations
CEDAR CITY, Utah Jan. 24 – The Southern Utah Softball team will be one of the university’s last programs to begin competition as a member of the Big Sky Conference next month, but it will also find itself in a unique situation as it enters the inaugural season for the sport in the league.
“It’s a great opportunity to be in this new conference. I feel like we really have a chance to do some damage in this league,” stated SUU head coach Kyle Magnusson. “Teams like Sacramento State and Portland State have historically been good programs. With this being the first year for softball in the Big Sky, it would be nice to win that first conference title.”
Southern Utah ranked third in the preseason coaches poll released by the conference Thursday, picking up one first-place vote. Portland State earned the top spot after being voted number one by five coaches and Sacramento State came in second while also receiving a first-place nomination. Northern Colorado was selected fourth, followed by Weber State in fifth and North Dakota and Idaho State who rounded out the bottom of the poll.
The Thunderbirds expect to have the talent to compete in the BSC, starting with returning Easton All-American Mikkel Griffin. Last season the SUU slugger led the team with a .404 batting average, 65 hits, 12 home runs, 10 stolen bases and a .714 slugging percentage.
“Mikkel had one of the best seasons that has ever been seen here,” commented Magnusson. “This year we plan on changing the lineup and moving her to the third spot, so she will have the chance to drive in even more runs.”
Along with Griffin, the T-Birds return last year’s RBI leader Kelsey Bryant and six other position players. SUU also anticipates having a solid pitching staff for the upcoming season, anchored by senior Danielle Axe and junior college transfer Ariel Zimmerman.
“Danielle has really been working and is developing a more diverse game. She has one really good pitch and is getting a drop-ball, a turnover and a changeup. She’s a better pitcher than she was in the last two years,” explained Magnusson. “Ariel realizes that this is going to be a big step-up. With the level of competition she will see, she is going to have to be on top of her game everyday.”
It will be a different level of competition for all the Thunderbirds to start the season, as the team will have early matchups with Tennessee, Arkansas, Nebraska, Purdue and Arizona.
“I’m sure that there are some teams who have a tougher schedule than us, but not many,” said Magnusson. “I thought that we would be better as a team this year when I put together the schedule and playing this type of competition will help us slow down the game once we get to league play.”
This and future years’ teams will benefit from the recruiting efforts of Coach Magnusson, who expects a lot of his incoming student-athletes.
“Kelli Hales, Kylee Wolf and Meagan Neilson will all start up the middle for us,” stated Magnusson. “There will be a learning curve, but we have continued to get some of the best players in the state. Next year we will add Jordan Theurer who is the reigning Utah Player of the Year, which makes it two years in a row that the top player has come to Southern Utah.”
The softball season is right around the corner as SUU opens play at the Red Desert Classic on Feb. 7. The Thunderbirds will have to be on top of their game from day one as the week features contests with the Tennessee Volunteers and Arkansas Razorbacks. Coverage for all Southern Utah University athletic events can be found at www.suutbirds.com.
Sat. Oct. 18
vs. Snow College
Sat. Oct. 11
@ Brigham Young University
Sat. Oct. 11
@ Utah Valley University
Fri. Oct. 10
vs. Salt Lake Community College
Sat. May. 17
@ Long Beach State
(L) 6 -9
Fri. May. 16
Fri. Oct. 24
@ Dixie State