Under ninth-year head coach Karen Yoder, the UC Davis softball program’s philosophy has been to challenge itself early in the season, hoping that will pave the way for conference success.
It nearly worked last year as the Aggies entered the final week of the Big West schedule with a shot at winning a league title. After falling just short, UCD is looking to follow the same model in 2013.
Including the five games they played last weekend at the Fresno State Kickoff — where they went 3-2 — the Aggies open their 2013 slate by testing themselves with 26 road contests in their first 29 outings. UCD takes a short break from traveling to host Cal on Wednesday (2 p.m.) in its home opener at La Rue Field.
“I tell my recruits that I create as challenging a schedule as possible. We face top-caliber teams like Stanford and Cal, and travel to face tough out-of-region teams at the tournaments we travel to,” Yoder said last week. “By playing in all types of climates, against teams we may face at a postseason regional, my team already has the experience needed to successfully face any team or challenge.”
And the Aggie coaching staff has confidence that they have the type of roster that will allow them to succeed despite the early challenges. Their depth was on display in Fresno as UCD got contributions from up and down the lineup, featuring the raw athleticism of the newer players and the maturity and experience of the upperclassmen.
“My depth chart is fluid and changes weekly. My players know where they stand at all times with regard to their position, or as the designated player,” Yoder said.
A junior transfer from Utah State, Krista Bava — who had four doubles among her five hits in Fresno — is one of eight outfielders vying for playing time this season. Other strong candidates include seniors J.J. Wagoner and Megan Guzman, sophomore Cassandra Ginnis — a returning starter — and redshirt freshman Jasmine Lee, as well as talented true freshmen Gretchen Diekman, Catherine Guidry and Kaila Olson.
“We are so talented in the outfield; players will be called upon in different situations,” Yoder said. “I will ask players to pinch hit, pinch run and share time in the grass because of our speed and our depth.”
In the infield, the Aggies will rely on returning standouts Chandler Wagner, a junior second baseman, and Amy Nunez, a sophomore first baseman. Both players had strong plate performances at the Fresno tournament.
A pair of transfers — Jessica Barrett from West Valley College and Kimberly Pena from Mt. SAC — also are expected to contribute for the Aggies in the infield. Barrett was a member of Colorado State’s 2011 softball roster before returning to Northern California last season and Pena was a second-team All-South Coast Conference honoree.
Freshmen Christina Guidry, Janelle Gusiff and Christa Costello also figure into UCD’s plans.
In the circle, the Aggies have a star in the making in sophomore Justine Vela, last season’s Big West Freshman Pitcher of the Year, Conference Pitcher of the Year and an All-Big West First Team selection. She will get support from a strong staff that also includes three-year letterwinner Jessica Thweatt, freshman left-hander Leah Munden and first-year right-hander Marissa Chapa.
“We have four different pitchers that bring four different dimensions; having four pitchers of that quality will only make our pitching staff stronger,” Yoder said.
Expected to complete UCD’s battery and split time behind the dish are junior Kelly Schulze and Wagoner, while another key Aggie addition is Hancock College transfer Caitlin Voss, who was a .320 hitter and all-Southern California honoree last year.