Monday, January 19, 2015

Big West Conference Forecast

Team that will surprise: UC-Davis
     Erin Thorpe left Boise State to take over the Aggie program, and I like the look of her team she takes into her inaugural season at the helm. The team's success, at least in part, will ride on the health of Justine Vela. After losing Vela five pitches into the 2014 season, the Aggies never really contended for the postseason. As she returns for her junior season, her success could be a determining factor in her team's success or failure. Sophomore Lauryn Sanders & junior Kelly Zboralske both impressed me immensely last season, and both are back to help lead the offense. "Zboralske" is a tough name to remember, but any fan that enjoys good softball will want to remember it.

Team that will disappoint: Long Beach State
     Erin Jones-Wesley. That single name tells you the main reason I believe the 49ers will fall. A four-time first-team all-conference selection and 20-game winner, Jones-Wesley's name appears in the school's record book more than any other. Three additional all-conference selections are departed, though Tennessee junior transfer Haley Tobler joins the squad with a spark of offense. Ashley Holmes and Shayna Kimbrough return, but the losses may be too great for Kim Sowder's squad to overcome and earn a repeat NCAA tournament bid.

Player of the Year: Missy Taukeiaho, Cal State Fullerton

Pitcher of the Year: Sierra Hyland, Cal Poly
Coach of the Year: Kelly  Ford, Cal State Fullerton

Conference Champs: Long Beach State

Top WCWS Contender: Long Beach State/Cal State Fullerton
     (Despite the losses, the players that LBSU returns still may put them in the best position of anyone in the Big West to reach Oklahoma City. If anyone is to challenge that position, it will be the Titans. Missy Taukeiaho is an excellent hitter, and redshirt senior Eliza Crawford is no slouch in her own right. If the Big West were to be represented in the WCWS, you can count on it being one of these two teams.)

Players to Watch:
- Haley Tobler, Long Beach State – 
Tobler never really got to play regularly at Tennessee, and now closer to home at LBSU, she may have a shot to really show what she's made of. She does have solid talent, and could be an offensive factor for the Niners. Kim Sowder has a good history with turning former Lady Vol subs into stars for her squad, and Tobler will likely follow that same track.

- Ashley Holmes, Long Beach State – The last sentence in the write-up above specifically refers to Holmes. Also a former Lady Vol, she got very little playing time in her lone season on Rocky Top and transferred to Long Beach, where she has since put up solid offensive numbers, including a .261/14/50 stat line over the past two seasons. Her 2014 season was a drastic improvement over her previous year, with a batting average nearly 100 points higher; more hits & RBIs; and fewer strikeouts, and all in roughly twenty fewer plate appearances.

- Kristen Clark, UCSB – As a freshman in 2014, Clark led her squad in batting average; OBP; and slugging percentage, as well as stolen bases and triples. She recorded ninety base hits... the next-highest number on the Gauchos was fifty-one. She's an exciting, young player, and if she can do that immediately upon entering the league, think about what she can do the second time around. Keep an eye on her in Santa Barbara.

- Missy Taukeiaho, Cal State Fullerton – Taukeiaho has played just two years in a mid-major conference, and already has at least one of nearly every major trophy in her case. An all-conference, All-American, and conference Player of the Year, she's an incredible hitter. Though nineteen home runs might have some tending to label her a "slugger", don't overlook the plus-.425 batting average and seventy-two hits, only thirty-three of which went for extra bases. She's a great all-around hitter.

Top Seniors:
P – Brianna Elder, CSU-Northridge; Amanda Hansen, Long Beach State; Shelby Wisdom, UCSB

IF – Eliza Crawford, Fullerton; Ashley Holmes, Long Beach State; Shayna Kimbrough, Long Beach State
UT – Leisha Li‘ili‘i, Hawaii

Conference Projection (2014 finish in parentheses):
1. Cal State Fullerton (4)
2. Long Beach State (1)
3. UC-Davis (5)
4. UCSB (3)
5. Cal Poly (2)
6. Hawaii (7)
7. CSU-Northridge (6)

8. UC-Riverside (8)

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