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Softball Selected Ninth in Pac-12 Preseason Poll

Feb 1, 2022

SAN FRANCISCO- The Softball Preseason Coaches Poll has been released by the Pac-12 Conference this morning and the Utes were picked to finish ninth in the league. 

Coming off a Pac-12 Conference title and a deep run in last year's College World Series, UCLA was selected as the conference favorite. The Washington Huskies followed in second and were picked over Arizona, who was the only other Pac-12 team to play in the World Series last season. Both received one first-place vote. Oregon tied Arizona for third with 45 votes followed by Arizona State in fifth, Stanford at six and Oregon State in seventh. California (8th) and Utah (9th) rounded out the conference rankings.

The Pac-12 is well-represented in preseason national polls and see's five teams ranked in the top-25 of the recently released USA Today/NFCA coaches poll, three of which are inside of the top-10 (UCLA - 3rd, Washington - 7th, Arizona - 9th). Oregon (18th) and Arizona State (21st) round out the ranked Pac-12 teams as Stanford is just on the outside receiving votes (4).     

Utah will return 16 players from last year's roster including key pieces in junior Haley Denning and senior Ellessa Bonstrom. Denning was named second-team All-Pac-12 and first-team NFCA All-Pacific Region in 2021. She led the conference in hits (75) and stolen bases (31), ranking nationally fifth and tied for 11th, respectively, in those two categories. As for Bonstrom, she was named third-team All-Pac-12 and was huge offensively for the Utes last season. She led the team in homeruns with 14 deep shots (5th in the Pac-12), 42 RBI, posted a .623 slugging percentage and a .408 on-base percentage.

Graduate student Katie Faulk enters her last season with the Utes and will hold it down behind the plate as the primary catcher. She started 51 of 54 games at the position in 2021 and created hesitancy for base runners throwing out 11 would-be base-stealers in 22 attempts.

In the circle, Sydney Sandez returns for her senior season and was the team's leader in innings pitched (117.2) and games started (20) last season. Sophomore Mariah Lopez, who as a true freshman led the team in strikeouts (66), looks to take another step in her development this year under the direction of Paige Parker. 

Junior Halle Morris is another key returning piece after showing her versatility all over the field last season. Morris saw action at first and third, served as a designated hitter and stepped into the circle as both a starter and reliever, posting the lowest ERA among all Utah pitchers. Following her breakout season, Morris was named third-team NFCA All-Pacific Region in the Utility/Pitcher category. 

A total of six newcomers join the Utes for the 2022 season. Two of them being freshman and four joining by way of transfer. Notable additions include graduate transfer Shi Smith, who brings a ton of experience to the pitching staff after spending four seasons at Seattle University. Smith currently holds Seattle U career records for strikeouts per seven innings (7.45) and opponent batting average (.231). She led the team with 31 appearances and was named first-team All-WAC in 2021 after posting an ERA of 3.24 and leading the team with 114 strikeouts.

Infielder Julia Jimenez is another impactful transfer from the Michigan program. Jimenez was named second-team All-Big Ten and started all 46 games for the Wolverines in 2021. She brings a hot bat to the plat as she tallied a season-long seven-game hit streak and posted career highs in all offensive categories, including a batting average of .293.

The Utes open play next week at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz., Feb. 11-13. Action begins on Friday against fifth-ranked Oklahoma State at 2:00 pm MT and will be aired on the Pac-12 Networks. Contests against Missouri State, No. 20 Duke and California Baptist follow the next two days. The game against Duke on Saturday, Feb. 12, will be aired on Pac-12 Los Angeles with a start time of 4:30 pm MT.

2022 Pac-12 Preseason Poll 

1. UCLA 63 (7 first-place votes)
2. Washington 55 (1 first-place vote)
T3. Arizona 45 (1 first-place vote) 
T3. Oregon 45
5. Arizona State 37
6. Stanford  31
7. Oregon State 25
8. California 12
9. UTAH 11