FAYETTEVILLE- The University of Arkansas softball team begins its 2013 campaign on Feb. 8, with five games at the Red Desert Classic in St. George, Utah at the Canyons Softball Complex.
The Razorbacks will open play against Colorado State on Feb. 8 at 12 p.m.. The Hogs follow with a game at 5 p.m. versus Southern Utah University. On Feb. 9 Arkansas will square off with Loyola Marymount and Weber State at 2:30 p.m. and 5 p.m. respectively. The conclusion of the Red Desert Classic will pit Arkansas against Utah on Feb. 10 at 11 a.m.. Arkansas finished last season with a non-conference record of 21 wins and six losses. Head coach Mike Larabee said that the team has improved this offseason and is ready to face outside competition.
"I think that we have made some great strides since the fall," Larabee said. "We brought the players back in January and I am really excited about where our team is right now. Pitching-wise we have got four pitchers that are doing a great job. I believe that we are 11-deep offensively and defensively we are playing at a very high level. We are right where we want to be going into this tournament."
Arkansas' first game of the season will be against the Colorado State Rams. The Rams set a program record with five selections to the All-Mountain West team last year. CSU finished their 2012 season with a record of 29-22, a 21-win improvement from a year ago. Four of the Rams' five All-Conference selections will return for the 2013 campaign.
Game two will feature the Thunderbirds of Southern Utah. SUU finished last season with a 29-25 record and will move from the Summit League to the Big Sky Confer¬ence in 2013. 2012 Summit League Player of the Year Mikkel Griffin returns for her senior season and will surely be a challenge for the Razorbacks at the plate.
Game three pits Arkansas against Loyola Marymount. The Lions finished the 2012 season with a 32-21 mark and graduated arguably the best player in school history, Sam Fischer. Fis¬cher was the first All-American in school history and will be a tough bat to replace for the LMU. Head coach Gary Ferrin enters his 19th season at the helm of the Lions. He has over 600 wins in his career.
In the latter game on Feb. 9 The Weber State Wildcats will face Arkansas. The Wildcats finished 21-32, a nine-game improvement from 2011 and a 19-win improvement from 2010. The Wildcats set 17 single-season school records, but graduated five seniors including third baseman Lyndsey Minnich. Minnich set single-season records for bat¬ting average (.396), hits (59), home runs (15), total bases (115), runs scored (46), and RBIs (49). 2013 will be the Wildcats' first season in the Big Sky Conference.
The finale of the Red Desert Classic will involve teams from two of the best softball conferences in the nation. The Utah Utes concluded their inaugural season in the PAC-12 with a 28-28 record but only secured two wins in the conference. All-PAC-12 honorable mention players Katelyn Elliott and Kelsi Hoopiiaina will re¬turn this season. The Utes were 26-6 last season in non-conference play and are sure to be a test for the Hogs. Larabee is expecting good results at the Red Desert Classic.
"I expect us to compete at a high level," Larabee said. "I expect all four of our pitchers to dominate. I expect our hitters to have quality at bats and I expect good defense. We are ready to go."
Arkansas had a record breaking 2012 season, making it to the NCAA Regional Finals, receiving honors from the Southeastern Conference and breaking or tying numerous school records. Arkansas finished its season with a 29-28 record and a berth in the NCAA Tournament, a first since the 2009 season.
With such an outstanding season, Arkansas received many accolades from the conference and NFCA. Devon Wallace was named the Southeastern Conference Freshman of the Year. She was also named to the All-SEC first team. This was the first time in program history that a player had received either honor. Freshman Kimmy Beasley was also honored by the SEC, being named to the SEC-All Freshman team. Wallace and sophomore Clarisa Navarro were honored by nationally by the NFCA. Wallace was named to the All-Region first team while Navarro was named to the All-Region second team.
The Razorbacks return 15 letterwinners and three pitchers from the regional qualifying 2012 team. The team also welcomes a stud 2012 freshman class including: Stephanie Canfield, the Illinois career all-time hits leader; Claire Clark, a four-time Arkansas all-state performer; Lauren Montgomery, a school record holder in homeruns and RBI; Danielle Riddle, who hit .450 lifetime while carrying an ERA of 1.13 in her four years of high school softball; Nicole Schroeder, a California all-state performer her senior year and Kelly Young, the Mississippi Gatorade Player of the Year. Larabee wants the freshman class to hit the ground running in their first tournament.
"Our freshmen have stood out," Larabee said. "Nicole Schroeder will be our DP this year, Claire Clark will play center field this year and she is very athletic. Stephanie Canfield has also stepped up."
For more information on the Red Desert Classic, click here.
Arkansas will continue its non-conference slate when it heads to Jackson, Miss. for a doubleheader against Jackson State on Feb. 13. The Hogs will then travel to Tallahassee, Fla. for the Unconquered Tournament from Feb. 15-17.