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Sunday, January 29, 2017

Mountain West Conference Forecast

The Mountain West is a member of the so-called "group of five" conferences, with eleven schools located in the western part of the United States, including in the states of California; Nevada; Utah; Wyoming; Colorado; Idaho; and New Mexico. Of the eleven schools, nine sponsor varsity softball. The Air Force Academy and Wyoming do not.

The Mountain West does not sponsor a conference tournament; instead, the regular-season champion earns the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament's field of sixty-four. 

Former Fresno State ace Jill Compton's absence is sure
to cast waves through the Mountain West.

Photo: Fresno State Athletics
Team that could improve and surprise: Utah State Aggies
     (The Aggies posted their best record in decades last season, improving their win-loss record by more than ten games and posting their first over-.500 record in the same time period. While pitching leader Noelle Johnson and ace hitter Sarah Chow have now departed, head coach Steve Johnson has his program on the rise; the Aggies are one of several teams in prime position to take advantage of a suddenly-open conference race. Even sans-Noelle Johnson, expect the Aggies' pitching staff to lead their squad to a continued improvement.)

Team that could decline and disappoint: Fresno State Bulldogs
     (Not only did the Bulldogs lose out on a potential regional-hosting bid, they bid farewell to head coach Trisha Ford and all-time great hurler Jill Compton. Ford proved a fine successor to Hall of Fame coach Margie Wright in taking over the program and continuing a plateaued level of success. For Compton, a four-time all-conference first-team selection; three-time all-region honoree; and two-time reigning conference Pitcher of the Year, the Bulldogs often were unbeatable from the circle and will sorely miss her right arm this season. With the change in the dugout and in the circle, especially, the Bulldogs are likely to fall significantly away from their 2016 success.)

Player of the Year: Kierra Willis, Fresno State
Pitcher of the Year: Alex Formby, San Diego State
Coach of the Year: Peter Turner, San Jose State

Conference Champs: San Jose State Spartans
Top WCWS Contender: San Jose State Spartans

Players to Watch:
Brittany Abacherli, San Jose State – Abacherli hit .351 as a sophomore, scoring fifty-six runs and knocking in forty-nine. She led her program in runs, as well as home runs (12) and walks (27). If the Spartans are to make the run toward the title that we expect, Abacherli will be one player that should play a major catalyst in that effort.

Rebekah Cervantes, Boise State – Cervantes was not only named the Mountain West's Freshman of the Year in 2016, she also earned all-conference first-team honors and tied for the league lead in home runs with thirteen. She hit .342 on the year, with thirteen home runs, thirty-six RBIs, and a .658 slugging percentage. How good the Broncos' on-field product will be as a whole remains to be seen, and carries large question marks, but Cervantes should enjoy another impressive campaign.

Lindsey Willmon, Fresno State – Sometimes overshadowed by some of her flashier teammates, Willmon quietly put up a particularly-impressive season of her own last year as the Bulldogs' first baseman and occasional center fielder (not the usual position combo, to be sure). The former Hawaii player reaped dividends from her new home, finishing the year with a .363/12/48 line. This is her second season as a Bulldog and her final year overall; expect a repeat of her all-conference and all-region first-team awards.

Biggest Questions:
* How will Fresno State react to their 2016 early postseason exit and a coaching change?

Top Seniors:
P – Erica Romero, San Diego State; Kwyn Cooper, UNLV; McKenna Isenbenrg, Nevada
IF – Sydnee Cable, San Diego State; Victoria Saucedo, Utah State; Lindsey Willmon, Fresno State; Malia Rivers, Fresno State; Haley Hutton, Colorado State; Michala Erickson, New Mexico; Corey Hendrickson, Boise State
OF – Kierra Willis, Fresno State
UT/DP – Jasmine Casados, New Mexico

Conference Projection:
1. San Jose State Spartans
2. San Diego State Aztecs
3. Utah State Aggies
4. Fresno State Bulldogs
5. Nevada Wolfpack
6. UNLV Rebels
7. Colorado State Rams
8. New Mexico Lobos
Others: Boise State Broncos

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