UVU softball hopes experience and continuity lead to big things in 2016

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Wolverines return eight starters including top four hitters

With a team full of freshman and sophomores, UVU went through growing pains in 2015 on their way to an 18-41 record overall. Their season ended in the Western Athletic Conference tournament when they lost to New Mexico State by a score of 18-3.

But with eight returning starters including their top four hitters and their top two pitchers, UVU head coach Nikki Palmer is excited about the potential of the upcoming season that begins Feb. 12 in Las Vegas against Texas Tech.

“It’s a lot of good experience,” Palmer said. ”We had a young team last year. We have a young team this year. We return eight of our starters so that is pretty exciting. We do have some newcomers that are going to have an impact as well. We do have a lot of maturity and experience coming back and it should help us going forward because they know what to expect.”

The Wolverines also return the middle infield duo of Tiani Hensley and Brittany Vansway. Hensley, a senior, and Vansway, a junior, helped UVU turn 45 double plays in 2015, which led the nation.

“I feel like it is fun when it comes,” Vansway said. “Last year we didn’t expect to turn that many double plays. We just went with the flow.”Softball_GabiCampbell2

Vansway is also part of a Wolverine offense that hit 55 home runs and scored almost four runs per game. However, one stat that UVU hopes to improve on is their team batting average, which was .261, last in the WAC.

Pitchers Bailey Moore, Makayla Shadle, Kelsea Lawton and Kellee Ramsey all return to help stabilize a pitching staff that struggled in 2015. Palmer is also excited about true freshman Kelsea Sweeney and believes that she can make a big impact.

That impact might be needed early as the schedule for the Wolverines is brutal. UVU will play just nine games in Orem and their first true home game isn’t until March 15 against Utah State. UVU will face four teams ranked in the preseason top-25 national polls, including 7th-ranked UCLA on March 12 and 6th-ranked Oregon in a double-header on May 3. It provides a challenge that Coach Palmer believes makes her team better when it comes to conference play and the WAC tournament.

“Home games are a little bit difficult because of the weather,” Palmer said. “As far as the ranked teams go, we’re excited about it. It’s good exposure for our program and it’s good experience for the postseason. We tend to play up for the better teams so it just makes us better.”

With an influx of youth mixed in with the experience of 2015, UVU softball is hoping to win more than 20 games, repeat their 2013 WAC tournament championship run and earn that automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.

“I expect us to have a big year,” Palmer said. “We should definitely be above .500. We face some difficult opponents but we have faced difficult opponents in the past that really helped us. It’s going to be the little games that we really need to focus on. We need to win the games we should win. It will come down to pitching and defense as normal.”