Event: Fresno State Kick-off
Teams: UC Davis vs. Southern Miss.; vs. Fresno State; vs. UTEP; vs. Southern Miss.; vs. Sacramento State
Records: Aggies (0-0); Golden Eagles (0-0); Bulldogs (0-0); Miners (0-0); Hornets (0-0)
Where: Bulldog Stadium — Fresno, CA
When: Friday at 9 a.m.; Saturday at 6 p.m. and 8:15 p.m.; Sunday at 11:15 p.m.and 1:30 p.m.
Who to watch: When Shakespeare wrote the words, “Though she be but little, she is fierce,” little did he know that the phrase would apply to sophomore pitcher Justine Vela.
Last year, the 5’5” freshman sensation grabbed numerous honors, highlighted by the title of Big West Freshman Pitcher of the Year, and Big West Pitcher of the Year.
After her freshman season, Vela became the queen of the pitcher’s circle with 272 strikeouts on the year, placing her third in all-time strikeout totals in UC Davis history. By the end of the season, Vela boasted a 20-17 record complete with nine shutouts, and even a no-hitter against Idaho State.
Vela will not only serve as a force on the mound, but also as a mentor and an example to her teammates this upcoming season.
Did you know? Last season, the Aggies upset the then eighth-ranked Stanford Cardinals. The win went down as Stanford’s only loss to the Aggies in 17 years. The triumph was made possible by the pitching brilliance of current senior Jessica Thweatt and the timely hitting of Cassandra Ginnis in her freshman season.
This season, the Aggies will have multiple opportunities to repeat their good fortune against the Cardinal at the Stanford Invitational, as well as during conference play.
Preview: The Aggies will embark on their season with only three out of their first 29 games at home. Frightening for most? Sure. Frightening for our Aggie fast pitch studs? Never.
In fact, surprisingly, Coach Karen Yoder and her team feel quite at home on the road and plan to perform at their best despite the constant travel scheduled for the beginning of the season.
“We have always had a program that has played well on the road. We bond well and there’s not as much distraction. We have study hall, then eat, sleep and play softball,” Yoder said.
In addition to the countless travel days, the Aggies’ schedule is highlighted by numerous historically successful teams including California, Arizona State, Stanford and Hawai’i. Despite any potential intimidation, Yoder has total confidence in her squad to handle the pressure and remain focused.
“There are exciting games on the schedule, but we will not take anyone lightly,” Yoder said.
With the addition of a star-studded schedule, the Aggies’ have also increased their squad size due to Yoder’s decision to permanently expand the roster two years ago. As a result, this season the Aggies plan to capitalize on their depth as a team.
“I am so extremely excited about this season…We have added speed and some very capable and exciting defensive players to add to our depth,” Yoder said. “We have added to our pitching staff, and our offense is far stronger than the past seven years. I just think that all around our program has taken it up a notch in all areas.”
With the addition of ten freshmen to their active roster, the Aggies will have a solid blend of experienced veterans and talented underclassmen to create a lethal combination. Notable veterans that Yoder plans to rely on include Vela and junior Kelly Schulze; however, the team’s chemistry as a whole is what truly motivates the team.
“There are just so many [leaders] to think of, but I think that chemistry-wise we bring a lot together. I think that they are going to be amazing,” Yoder said.
In addition to their predicted success on the field, Coach Yoder regards her players not only as remarkable athletes, but also as remarkable students and representatives of our university.
“They are a special group of young ladies that will represent our university. We had so many with over a 3.0 GPA last quarter. It is a complement of them being academically strong, as well as athletically strong,” Yoder said.
The Aggies have all the tools for success this season, and the only role the audience has is to sit back and watch the magic unfold.
“If you like fast-paced-type, intense athletic competition, we are the team to come watch,” Yoder said.
— Alli Kopas