Big West Softball Takes The Field For 2012 Start
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The Big West Softball Preseason Coaches Poll proved that the race for the 2012 championship is bound to be a tight one as Pacific and Long Beach State tied for the top spot. Both schools received four first-place votes for a total of 59 points each.
Pacific looks to clinch its second-straight championship after claiming the title for the first time in program history in 2011. The Tigers have nine of their 10 starters returning, including All-Big West First Team selections Amy Moore, Nicole Matson, Megan Hom, Nikki Armagost and Kelsey Rodriguez.
Long Beach State, which finished as a runner-up in 2011, hopes to complete unfinished business in 2012. The 49ers return eight starters, including 2011 Big West Pitcher of the Year and Freshman Pitcher of the Year Erin Jones-Wesley.
BIG WEST BEING “WATCHED”
The Amateur Softball Association (ASA) announced February 1st that Pacific junior pitcher/utility Nikki Armagost has been selected to the Top 50 “Watch List” for the 2012 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year award.
Now in its 11th year, the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year award, given by the National Governing Body for softball in the United States, recognizes outstanding athletic achievement by female collegiate softball players across the country.
As a sophomore, Armagost was named the 2011 Big West Player of the Year as well as an All-Big West First Team honoree and a Second Team All-Region award winner. Armagost was a vital two-way player in helping Pacific capture the 2011 Big West championship. She ended the season posting a .367 average with 65 hits, and went 19-11 overall in the circle with a 2.66 ERA.
Cal State Fullerton is already in a class of its own in Big West history with eight league titles, 20 NCAA appearances and a national title as a member of the conference, but the Titans hit a milestone this past season to put them at the top of the list in Big West history. CSF is the first team in league history to reach 1,000 victories. The Titans ended the 2011 season recording their 1,017th win with Long Beach State looking to join the 1,000 club with 958 victories.
DOMINATING THE CIRCLE
Long Beach State continued its pitching dominance last season to defend Big West history. Freshman pitcher Erin Jones-Wesley took home both 2011 Freshman Pitcher of the Year and 2011 Pitcher of the Year accolades. Erin is only the second pitcher in Big West history to achieve both awards in the same season, the first by fellow 49er Brooke Turner in 2008. The club won three consecutive Big West Freshman Pitcher of the Year awards (Bridgette Pagano, Brooke Turner, Taylor Petty) from 2007-09 and one other Big West Pitcher of the Year honor (Turner, 2008). Jones-Wesley also snatched a spot on the All-Big West First Team, an honor the program has not been able to fill since 2000.
A successful ball team has the potential to be something with the instruction of experienced coaching. Of current Big West coaches, three garner that experience having reached the 400 all-time wins milestone, the most recent being Cal State Fullerton’s Michelle Gromacki. Gromacki is in her 13th-season as head coach for the Titans and ranks fourth in all-time coaching career victories (404-271-1) in the Big West and fifth in Big West all-time conference victories (177).
The 2011 Big West Coach of the Year Brian Kolze embarks on his 20th season for the Pacific Tigers this Spring. Kolze currently ranks third in Big West history for all-time wins in conference play, posting over 200 wins with a conference record of 235-244-1 (.512). This past season he slipped into the third slot for career victories with 580, just one shy of the number two spot, owned by previous Cal State Fullerton coach Judi Garman (581). Kolze led the Tigers to their first-ever Big West Championship victory this past season, posting a 16-5 (.762) conference record and an overall season record of 37-19 (.661).
Looking to claim the title this season after settling in at second in 2011 is head coach for Long Beach State, Kim Sowder, who enters her sixth season with the 49ers. Out of her six years at Long Beach State, Sowder has led her team five out of six times to the top three slots in conference standings, including the Big West Conference title in 2008. She ranks sixth in Big West Conference all-time career victories (167-107-0) and seventh in conference wins (66-36-0).
THINGS ARE LOOKING UP
Records from the 2010 season compared to 2011 show vast improvement for the Big West Conference. Four teams surpassed their 2010 win total , Cal State Fullerton, Long Beach State, UC Santa Barbara and Pacific. The Titans won 14 in 2010 but posted 23 in 2011, while the 49ers finished with 26 in 2010 and ended up at 38 in ‘11. The Gauchos had 15 two years ago but turned in 27 victories last year, as Pacific ended the season with 37, including the league title for 2011, compared to 24 wins in 2010.
As a conference, the Big West has reclaimed its place among the premier mid-major conferences with a stellar showing against its brethren out west. The league is a combined 42-39 against the Mountain West, Pacific Coast Softball and WAC after going 34-49 against those same leagues a year ago.
BE THE BEST, PLAY THE BEST
UC Santa Barbara play 11 games this season against Top 25 ranked opponents in the country voted by ESPN.com/USA Softball and NFCA/USA Today Preseason Polls. This is two more games than its nine last season where they were unable to escape with a win. The Gauchos face Tennessee (9/14) to start the season, followed by a five-game streak of ranked opponents- Washington, Notre Dame, UCLA, and Houston. The Big West Conference teams have 50 competitions against Top 25 contests this season compared to the 61 contests last Spring. Against ranked opponents, only three teams were able to come away with a win last year, Pacific (3-8), Long Beach State (3-7) and Cal State Fullerton (1-6).
HISTORY IN THE MAKING
Pacific leads the pack and looks to continue to climb the charts this season in three categories of ranked all-time Big West records. As a club, the Tigers took the number one spot in all-time single season batting average (.323), topping the previous record of .311 set by Hawaii in 1996. Two Tigers will be back in the lineup this season to continue to post record-breaking numbers. Nicole Matson made her way to the sixth spot in the all-time records with 50 RBI’s in a single season, passing up Fresno State’s Gina LoPiccolo (49) in 1990. Teammate Megan Hom made the top-10 in Big West Individual Career Records with a batting average of .367, good enough for the ninth spot to finish out her sophomore year with the Tigers.
ESPNU & ESPN3
In collaboration with ESPN and the Hawai‘i Tourism Authority, the Big West Conference launched a ten-game distribution package on ESPN3 this past Fall. The first appearance for Big West women’s softball will be the double-header at Cal State Fullerton against Long Beach State for conference play on May 5 at 2:30 pm and 5:00 pm on ESPNU. The second double-header televised will be a LBSU at Pacific battle on May 11, slated for 1:00 pm and 3:00 pm on ESPN3.
This year’s package included a volleyball match, two baseball, two men’s basketball, two women’s basketball, one MPSF men’s volleyball and two softball games. The addition of games on ESPN3 extends ESPN’s current five-year deal with the Big West, which continues through the 2012-13 season.
ESPN3 is currently available in more than 70 million households through computers, tablets and smart phones and in 25 million households via Xbox gaming consoles.
BACK FOR MORE
Three-year All-Big West First-Team recipient Alex Holmes will return to the Aggies’ dugout this season but in a different capacity. Holmes will be returning as a student-assistant coach under head coach Karen Yoder. While on the Davis’ lineup Holmes made club and conference rankings including national recognition from NCAA Division I statistics with eight triples in 2011.