by Jeremiah Ingram
The 2012 C-USA softball season begins Thursday when UTEP hosts Santa Clara at 3 p.m. MT at Helen of Troy Softball Complex. Preseason All-CUSA selection Chelsea Troupe (.404, 31 RBI, 37 runs, 14 HR, .885 SLG) will lead the UTEP attack along with senior Camilla Carrera, the 2011 C-USA Preseason Player of the Year and 2010 first-team all-conference selection, who returns after missing the majority of last season with a back injury.
UTEP will continue its opening weekend at the Hotel Encanto Tournament, playing games at home and in Las Cruces, N.M., from Friday through Sunday against a field of teams that includes St. Mary's (MD), Illinois-Chicago, Indiana, Santa Clara and New Mexico State.
All nine C-USA softball programs will take part in season-opening tournaments beginning Friday, including the preseason favorite Tulsa Golden Hurricane. Tulsa heads to Lafayette, La., for the Louisiana Classics Softball Tournament. The three-day event features Rutgers, Mississippi Valley State and host No. 23/24 Louisiana-Lafayette. The Golden Hurricane boasts four preseason all-conference picks: sophomore pitcher Aimee Creger (24-3, 1.05 ERA, 256 K), junior shortstop Samantha Cobb (.342, 6 HR, 51 RBI, 32 runs, 16 doubles), sophomore third baseman Jill Barrett (.296, 39 runs, 21 RBI) and junior center fielder Caitlin Everett (.407, 37 runs, 23 RBI, 35 SB).
C-USA Preseason Player of the Year Melissa Gregson (.321, 46 RBI, 35 runs, 16 HR) leads a talented Houston attack that returns six position players who started at least 40 games last season. Gregson, along with preseason All-C-USA pick Holly Anderson (.340, 41 runs, 29 RBI, 7 HR) will pace the Cougars during the season-opening Hilton Houston Plaza Classic, Feb. 10-12, at Cougar Softball Stadium. The field includes No. 11/16 Oklahoma State, North Texas, Sam Houston State and Texas A&M Corpus Christi.
Last season, a record-tying five C-USA schools - Houston, Tulsa, UAB, Memphis and East Carolina -- participated in the NCAA Tournament and earned 11 combined wins, with Houston claiming a regional championship.
UAB will host the 2012 C-USA Softball Championship in Birmingham, Ala., May 10-12, at the UAB Softball Field. The three-day event will feature eight teams playing in a single-elimination format.
A full opening weekend schedule is below and listed in the PDF version of this release.
C-USA Softball Pages:
Tulsa, the reigning Conference USA regular season softball champion, has been selected as the 2012 preseason favorite to repeat by a vote of the league's nine head coaches. Tulsa sophomore right-hander Aimee Creger was selected C-USA Preseason Pitcher of the Year while Houston's senior slugger Melissa Gregson was named C-USA Preseason Player of the Year.
Houston and Tulsa are ranked No. 20 and 24, respectively, in the USAToday/National Fastpitch Coaches Association Division I Top 25 Preseason Poll, as announced today by the organization. The Cougars also are ranked No. 22 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 poll, which also was released today. Tulsa is among others receiving votes in the USA Softball poll and East Carolina is among others receiving votes in the NFCA poll.
C-USA Off-Season Headlines
Natalie Poole, who took McNeese State to the 2010 NCAA Softball Regionals, was recommended as the head softball coach at the University of Memphis Aug. 3. In three seasons as the head coach at McNeese State, Poole guided the Cowgirls to three-straight 30-win seasons, including a school-record 38 wins in 2010. She guided the Cowgirl program to two Southland Conference (SLC) Tournament championship games, winning the tournament title in 2010 and advancing to the NCAA Regional Tournament.
Kirsten Voak and Jon Malgradi were hired as co-head coaches for the Southern Miss softball program Aug. 9, 2011. Voak comes to Southern Miss after spending the 2006-2010 seasons at her alma mater, Arizona State, where she served as an assistant under head coach Clint Myers. In her five seasons with the team, the Sun Devils went 264-73 and won the 2008 WCWS National Championship. Malgradi comes to Southern Miss after spending the previous three seasons as the head coach at Mesa Community College in Mesa, Ariz., where he compiled a 102-76 record, including a top-10 ranking in 2011 and a regular season conference championship in 2010. Voak and Malgradi were married in 2002.
Former UAB softball player Natalie Mitchell was selected to receive one of 174 NCAA Postgraduate Scholarships. Mitchell, who also received the Jim Castañeda Postgraduate Scholarship from Conference USA, was one of three softball players and the only C-USA student-athlete to earn an NCAA Postgraduate Scholarship last spring. She graduated in May 2011 with a 4.0 GPA and a bachelor's degree in molecular biology with a minor in chemistry. She was accepted into the Fifth Year Master's Program in the UAB Department of Biology and will work to earn her master's degree before enrolling in medical school.
Eight Conference USA softball teams - UTEP, Houston, Marshall, East Carolina, Tulsa, UCF, UAB and Southern Miss -- have been recognized by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association as All-Academic Teams for the 2010-11 academic year. The NFCA Academic Awards program honors both collegiate and high school teams for their submitted GPAs for the 2010-11 academic year. As a second component of the program, all submitted student-athletes who achieved a 3.50 GPA during the last academic year are named as a NFCA All-America Scholar Athlete. Forty-five C-USA student-athletes were honored as NFCA All-America Scholar Athletes.