No. 14 California Opens 2009 Campaign in Palm Springs

Feb. 3, 2009

BERKELEY - The 14th-ranked California softball team (also ranked 16th in the NFCA Top 25) opens the 2009 campaign this weekend at the Cathedral City Classic in Palm Springs, Feb. 6-8 at the Big League Dreams Park.

Cal opens the tournament with No. 13 Houston at 10:00 a.m. on Friday, followed by an afternoon affair with Liberty at 1:00 p.m. On Saturday, the Bears take on Boise State at 10:30 a.m.; followed by Illinois at 1:00 p.m. Cal concludes the tournament on Sunday against Fordham at 9:00 a.m.

One thing the Bears have in their favor is opening day success. Cal has not lost a season-opening day game since 1997. Additionally, Cal is facing Houston and Boise State for the first time in school history. The Bears are a combined 8-0 against Liberty, Fordham and Illinois.

Cal, who returns six starters (Sanoe Kekahuna, Valerie Arioto, Vernae Sevilla, Taylor Kelly, Gina Leomiti and Bernice Masaniai) along with pitchers Marissa Drewrey, Arioto and Brittany LaRosa, finished the 2008 season with a 43-27 mark, a trip to the NCAA Super Regional and No. 14 ranking in the final USA Softball/ESPN.com Top 25 poll (No. 16 in the final USA Today/NFCA poll).

The Bears were paced by Arioto, who led the team in batting average (.324), runs (55), hits (71) and doubles (17) to earn All-Pac-10 and All-Pacific Region honors. Drewrey won 29 games in the circle with over 300 strikeouts en route to all-conference and all-region accolades. Cal set a team record with 279 RBI as well.

The 2009 squad also features depth, speed and seven newcomers - freshmen Frani Echavarria, sisters Elia and Jamia Reid, Amy Bishop, sophomore Sati Houston, junior Shannon Thomas and senior Nikki Schrey. Letterwinners Carrie Arth, Shannon Houston and Lauren Bauer also return.

The Golden Bears pitching staff made several big strides in 2008, thanks to Drewrey's 29 wins and 312 strikeouts and to Arioto's staff-low 1.93 ERA and pitches that kept opposing batters off-balance. Mix in a formidable LaRosa (six wins last year) and this year's staff should have the mental toughness and experience to lead the Bears deep in the postseason.

Arioto has also earned some national preseason notice as well after being named to the Amateur Softball Association of America's (ASA) initial 'Watch List' for the 8th Annual USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year Award. This award, which is considered the most prestigious honor in Division I women's collegiate softball, is designed to recognize outstanding athletic achievement by female collegiate softball players across the country. The 2009 Pre-Season Watch List is comprised of 50 players representing 32 schools and 13 different NCAA Division I Conferences.

Despite losing senior leadership at third base and behind the plate, Cal still returns a healthy core of veteran presence in the infield for 2009. The Bears have also added a few new pieces to the puzzle to help with depth in Thomas, Schrey, Bishop and Sati Houston. Cal head coach Diane Ninemire also expects to shift a few players around, most notably Kekahuna to the catcher position and Arioto to first base, when she is not pitching).

Cal should have one of the youngest outfields in the conference, if not the nation. Although this is the youngest outfield in recent memory with the arrival of three freshman standouts - twin sisters Elia and Jamia Reid and Echavarria, it will undoubtedly be the fastest Cal has ever seen. Add in the powerful and experienced bat of the senior Leomiti, and the Golden Bear outfield will be solid for 2009.

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