The Aggies head coach Carissa Kalaba enters her fourth season at the helm. Kalaba has a mix of young talent and proven veterans entering the 2013 campaign as the team looks to make a push for a farewell conference title.
Utah State enters it’s eighth and final season as a member of the Western Athletic Conference. USU will be moving to the Mountain West Conference for the 2013-14 athletic calendar.
“Our expectations as a team is to win the WAC. The players want it and that falls in line with what we as a coaching staff expect. Right out of the gate, this team has wanted to win it, and they want to go to the first round of the NCAA tournament,” Kalaba said.
After finishing last season with a 17-36 record to go along with a 4-17 conference mark, Utah State will look to qualify for the WAC Tournament in May. The top six conference teams qualify for the conference tournament with the winner advancing on to the NCAA Softball Tournament. The WAC Tournament will be hosted by Louisiana Tech in Ruston, La.
The WAC welcomed four new contenders to its ranks this season. Seattle, UT Arlington, UTSA and Texas State will all see its first WAC action in 2013.
Utah State will face three opponents ranked in the NFCA Preseason Top 25 in No. 6 Tennessee (Feb. 8), No. 7 Texas (Feb. 23) and No. 13 Arizona (Feb. 17). USU will also face two teams that received preseason votes to be included in the Top 25 in in-state foe BYU (April 10) and Tulsa (Feb. 22).
USU returns eight starters from last years squad, including two Preseason all-WAC players in senior infielder Christine Thomsen and sophomore outfielder Hailey Froton.
“Three of our main goals this offseason were to get as athletic as possible as a team, to work on our mental game as a team and improve on the fundamentals as a team. We are putting team first in everything that we do. Those are major components in the culture of our team, as well as creating a good foundation of honesty, integrity and accountability,” Kalaba said.
Utah State will look to its five seniors to help guide them through the 2013 campaign. Returning for their senior season will be utility player Katie Bowdidge, designated player Kali Cancelosi, pitcher Mandy Harmon, infielder Christine Thomsen and pitcher Shelbi Tyteca.
“Our senior class has good leadership and diversity between the five of them. Our team captain Christine Thomsen is a returning first-team all-WAC player, she is the nucleus of team. We depend on her to do lead and we depend on our seniors to set the example for our younger players,” Kalaba said.
The Aggie infield will bring experience and athleticism into the 2013 season. Fielding the corners will be senior Christine Thomsen at first, who had one of the best all-around seasons in program history. Settling in at third will be junior Allison Lenzora, a 2011 all-WAC second team honoree and all around defensive force.
Up the middle for Utah State will be a pair of juniors. At second, junior Kassandra Uchida who will move into the infield after seeing the majority of her action last season in center field. Completing the infield will be Fresno State transfer, junior shortstop Becca Walker.
“I have been looking for the type of athleticism we currently have in the infield for three years. We have the type of athletes that we have been looking for. We have diversity and we have a fluidity when making plays in the infield. We have an ideal infielding core from my perspective in terms of what each player has to offer and the role each one plays,” Kalaba said.
USU returns an experienced and skillful catcher in junior Samantha Miller. The junior has managed behind the plate duties over the last two seasons.
Miller started 41 games behind home for the Aggies and saw action in 45 games in various roles throughout the 2012 season.
Backing up Miller will be junior transfer Kelsie Webster and freshman Kirstyn Namba.
Returning to the circle will be a tandem of seniors for the Aggies. Senior Mandy Harmon and Shelbi Tyteca will anchor the staff this season.
Harmon has proven more than capable to handle the work load of a starting pitcher, tossing 371.1 inning in her career at Utah State. Harmon has also forced 265 stikeouts by her opponent in her three seasons with USU.
Tyteca continues to be a valuable late-game asset for the Aggies as the senior currently hold the all-time saves record with nine. Tyteca earned five saves last season, which is also a single-season record held by the senior. Tyteca looks to close out games for Utah State.
Adding depth to the staff will be sophomore Mariah Peterson, who worked 9.1 innings of action last season.
Also bringing a new and upcoming talent to the pitching staff will be freshman Noelle Johnson who continues to challenge for time in the circle.
Utah State infused its roster with seven newcomers for the 2013 season, including one transfer, Becca Walker who last played at Fresno State, and two junior college transfers, Racheal Hunsaker from Snow College and Kelsie Webster who played last season at College of Southern Idaho. The three juniors will bring depth and stability to the USU lineup.
Walker will step in and take the starting short stop position, while Hunsaker will provide depth to the Aggie outfielding core. Webster is an experienced catcher who will backup starter Samantha Miller behind home.
Utah State also bolstered its roster with four incoming freshmen.
Freshman infielder/pitcher Sarah Chow has been competing all fall for a starting position in the field and has proven to be extremely athletic.
Freshman pitcher Noelle Johnson brings a fresh dynamic to the pitching staff and will fight for time in the circle.
Fresh from the tropical island of Hawaii, freshman catcher Kirstyn Namba has proven more than capable behind the plate, as well as showing talent in the outfield. Namba could see action in several position this season.
Rounding out the incoming freshmen class is power-hitter Libby Pederson. She has serious pop in her bat and will see valuable at-bats at a designated player.
“Without a shadow of a doubt the newcomers athleticism has pushed some of the returning players. As a coach, you want to bring in talent that is going to shake the cage. A lot of people say that the freshman on a team set the tone because that competitive nature makes everybody work a little bit harder. We have several players who are new to the program with unbelievable work ethic. They never stop and they go the extra mile to be the best they can possibly be. They have come in and pushed the players who are in front of them,” Kalaba said.
Doug Hoffman is the assistant athletic director for Utah State University Athletic Media Relations.