ST. GEORGE – The Dixie State softball team will kick off its 2016 season today with the first of two invitationals over the next two weekends.
The Storm finished last season as the national runners-up, falling to North Georgia in the championship game 5-0. Despite losing a heralded class of seniors, Dixie State is ranked in the preseason at No. 2 nationally behind North Georgia. Click for the full NFCA national preseason poll.
In the PacWest, Dixie State received all 12 first place votes to get the unanimous selection as preseason favorites to win the conference.
The Storm program has had two consecutive 50-plus wins coming into this year and has placed itself in the national conversation with two consecutive trips to the Division II Softball World Series. Gone are powerhouse names like Duncan, Reiter, Sherwin and Hines. But coach Randy Simkins believes there is a lot of talent taking over the reins. Here is a look at this year’s team:
LF-Senior Kristi Johnson will start in left field. The Temecula, Calif., native has platooned in the outfield in the past and was called on many times as a pinch runner for her speed. Johnson started nine games last year and batted .324. She also had a .950 fielding percentage.
CF-Sophomore Janessa “Cheetah” Bassett will anchor the outfield. Bassett won the inaugural NFCA/Schutt Sports Freshman of the Year last year and was also named as first-team NFCA All-American. The Stansbury High alum led the team in batting average (.449) and slugging percentage (.681) and also stole 47 bases out of 50 attempts last year. Bassett was selected all-PacWest in the preseason and was selected to the national top 50 NFCA Player of the Year watch.
RF-Newcomer Shelby Yung comes to DSU from Pace University. The junior from Upland, Calif., was a two-year starter and was all-conference her first two years. She batted .444 last year.
Others: Sophomore Sarah Good and incoming freshman Taylor Godfrey will platoon in the outfield. Good, from Castle Rock, Colo., saw action in 26 games last year, mainly as a pinch runner. Godfrey, whose parents both played collegiately at SUU, led her team to a state championship in Arizona.
C-Directing the defense will be senior Autumn Woodfall. Woodfall, who started last year at first base, will replace first team All-American Marla Reiter. Woodfall has been all-conference her first three years. The Davis High alum had 5 home runs and 34 RBIs last year.
3B-When she is not pitching, returning first team all-conference player Brooklyn Beardshear will start at third base. The junior started 37 games last year, batted .356 with six home runs and 40 RBIs. When Beardshear is pitching, sophomore Cassidy Morton will get the start. Morton appeared in eight games last year. She is a two-time golden glove winner out of Diamond Ranch High School in California.
SS-Junior Josey Hartman has started every game she has played (121) at Dixie State. She batted .309 last year and had a .964 fielding percentage. The Maple Mountain High alum was all-Pac West last year.
2B-The second base position will initially be platooned by three different incoming players. Dani Bartholf is an incoming freshman from Gilbert, Ariz., and batted .431 last year. Kaitlyn Delange led Canyon View High School to a region title last year. Bailey Gaffin, also an Arizona native, batted .490 as a senior.
1B-Junior Mallory Paulson will start at first. The preseason all-PacWest first teamer started 53 games last year and was a key cog in their success. The Fruita, Colo., native batted .301, hit six home runs and batted in 24 runs.
Others: Incoming freshman Jessica Gonzalez will back up Woodfall at catcher. The Kingsburg HS alum was offensive player of the year and holds her school record for most career hits (147). Freshman Summer Simkins, a Dixie alum and daughter of head coach Randy Simkins, will also platoon in the infield.
DH/Utility: Junior Arista Honey appeared in 18 games last year. She is a transfer from Edmonds Community College where she hit .418.
Pitching: Former PacWest pitcher of the year Aryn Feickert returns. Feickert sported a 20-5 record and pitched a 2.18 ERA last year. The senior has 280 strikeouts over the last two years. Feickert was selected as the PacWest’s preseason pitcher of the year and joins Bassett on the NFCA’s top 50 national Player of the Year watch list. Brooklyn Beardshear will be the team’s second pitcher. The Arizona native pitched a 2.36 ERA last season.
Others: Redshirt freshman Alexis Barkwell led her high school to a state championship. The San Diego native appeared in one game last year before redshirting. Transfer Madi Dove started 23 of 26 games for Dominican College (NY). She recorded a 13-6 record with a 2.64 ERA. Also pitching with be Alex Melendez from Moreno Valley, Calif. The incoming freshman is currently nursing an injury, however, and is unlikely to see action for a couple of weeks.
This year, the Storm will host two invitationals to begin the season. In the past they have had their first several games on the road. “There are pluses and minuses for either,” Simkins said. “The girls enjoy traveling and seeing different places. But it is also nice to sleep in your own bed at the end of the day.”
Fourteen teams have already registered for an opening invitational next season.
“We have great facilities and great weather,” said Simkins. “Our recent success has helped spotlight us as a national program as well.”
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