Aggies set to take the diamond in 2014
Published: Wednesday, February 5, 2014
Updated: Wednesday, February 5, 2014 23:02
Following a rough season last year that saw the Aggies win only 11 games, the Utah State softball team looks to turn a corner as new head coach Steve Johnson takes the reigns.
Although the Aggies have struggled mightily recently, the softball program has had tremendous success in the past dating back to the early 1980s. The 1980 and 1981 USU softball teams won national championships in the now defunct Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women, which preceded the NCAA in softball.
“I think the biggest thing is just finding the consistency, trying to elevate our game both mentally and on the field to a whole new level,” said Johnson, who came to USU after serving as an assistant coach at Auburn for the last five years. “We want to make the routine plays routine, limit our mental and physical errors. Just by that consistency, we elevate our play across the board.”
Johnson said the team has a number of strengths they will look to play to, and they’ll rely heavily on a number of players.
“We got a solid pitching staff. We got a really good No. 1 in Noelle Johnson. She’s going to be expected, as the one returner with experience, she’ll have a lot more innings,” Johnson said. “We have two freshman, Abby Indreland and Cheyenne Harper, that will be counted on for a lot. They’ve got to get their feet wet at the college level.”
The Aggies have struggled defensively, allowing nine or more runs in 11 games last season. But Johnson said the defense has gone from weakness to strength.
“I think defensively, our infielders are pretty strong,” Johnson said. “We’ve got a good mix of returners and freshman in there, so we’ll be pretty strong there.”
On offense, Johnson is confident the Aggies can produce runs.
“I think offensively, we got 8-9 sticks that can produce for us. It’s just going to be a matter of taking what we’ve done in practice and putting it into games,” Johnson said. “We showed some great improvement in our short fall season, and now it’s just going to be can we build on that improvement and continue strong into this season.”
After winning 11 games last season, the Aggies hope to make some noise in their first season in the Mountain West Conference.
“Personally, I think we’ve got a chance … at winning 20 of our non-conference games, a huge step for us,” Johnson said. “Competing in the Mountain West is going to be different because it’s a step up competition-wise from the WAC, but we have so many new kids and so many things we’re doing, it’s new for everybody.”
Johnson said he expects the team to be above .500 in conference play on top of winning 20 non-conference games — a feat that would triple last season’s win total should the Aggies accomplish it.
“The kids have set a little loftier standards. The kids set their own goals, and their goal is to win the Mountain West and to get to a regional,” Johnson said. “It’s going to take a lot of work to get to that point to turn around from 11 (wins) to a regional team, but I don’t think it is out of question. If they do what they did in the fall, if they can translate what they’ve learned this spring, then I think it’s something they can certainly shoot for.”
The Aggies begin their regular season Thursday in St. George at the Red Desert Classic. From there they will play three tournaments in California, and after a trip to play UVU, they open conference play at home against Colorado State on Friday, March 21.