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2022 Utah Softball Outlook

Feb 8, 2022

SALT LAKE CITY- Softball season has finally arrived and the Utes will open up their 2022 campaign in Arizona at the Kajikawa Classic this weekend. The Utes return a total of 16 players and welcome six newcomers to Salt Lake City, which includes four transfers and two true freshmen. Breaking it down by class, the roster features two graduate students, five seniors, seven juniors, six sophomores and three freshmen.

Entering her 15th season at the helm, head coach Amy Hogue made some changes and has surrounded herself with dynamic young assistants that will certainly help revitalize the program and attract top talent. As far as the 2022 team, it features many utility players, key returners and a pair of transfers that earned all-conference honors at their previous school.

Running it Back
Utah will return the majority 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), nationally ranking 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 and posted a .623 slugging percentage.

Junior Halle Morris is the swiss army knife for this squad. In 2021, Morris had a breakout season as a pitcher, infielder and clutch-time hitter earning third-team NFCA All-Pacific Region in the Utility/Pitcher category. As a pitcher, Morris produced the lowest ERA of any Utah arm along with 34 strikeouts and a complete game. Morris is indispensable and will be relied upon in many situations all over the field this season.

Infielder Madi Jacobus returns to the lineup for her junior year and was an offensive force last season. Jacobus was the second-leading hitter on the team and finished with a .339 batting average. She also put together the longest hitting streak by a Utah player since 2017, at 14 games. Katie Faulk announced last spring that she will be returning for her super senior season with the Utes and is 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. At the plate, Faulk strung together her own seven-game hitting streak, including four multi-hit games.

In the Circle
Leading the way for the pitchers is senior Sydney Sandez, who in 2021 led the team in innings pitched (117.2) and games started (20). She also set a career high with 12 wins and 56 strikeouts. Her best outing of the season came against rival BYU early in the season where she threw a complete-game shutout in the 1-0 victory.

In her second year with the Utes, sophomore Mariah Lopez looks to take the next step in her development under the guidance of pitching coach Paige Parker. Still young in her career, Lopez showcased a standout true freshman season last year earning several key wins and getting the nod in numerous crucial situations. She led the team in strikeouts (66) but still has some work to do finishing with a 5.12 ERA. Lopez has shown glimpses of greatness in her short time at the U, like when she earned her first win over UNLV striking out 11 batters in a complete game performance.

New to the U
Freshman Hailey Harris hails from Downey, Calif., and excelled as a three-sport athlete in high school, but was dominant as a pitcher. She finished her career with an impressive 1.85 ERA, 306 strikeouts and did damage at the plate batting .400. In her senior year, Harris led the league in strikeouts (101) and posted an ERA of 0.79. NCAA DI softball is another level, especially in one of the toughest softball conferences in the country, but the ceiling is high for this freshman.

The second and final true freshman addition is Kendall Lundberg. From Lakewood, Calif., Lundberg was a two-time team captain who earned Moore League Player of the Year as a senior in 2021 when she batted .452 for the season for Lakewood High School. Additionally, she was named first-team All-CIF Southern Section, first-team All-Moore League and Offensive Player of the Year. A top-100 recruit (79th), she was also the 35th ranked catcher in the nation.

Change of Scenery
Transfer and graduate student Shi Smith brings some much needed experience to the pitching staff. Smith spent the last four years at Seattle University where she currently holds career records in strikeouts per seven innings (7.45) and opponent batting average (.231). In her last season, she led the team with 31 appearances in the circle, posted a 3.24 ERA, threw a career best 114 strikeouts and was named first-team All-WAC.

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.

Coaching Additons 
Two-time national champion, Paige Parker, is in her first season with the Utes and will serve as the teams pitching coach. Previously, Parker spent one year on the coaching staff at Tulsa and guided her staff to a record of 25-16, with three pitchers finishing the season with winning records and sub 3.30 ERA's. During her playing days at Oklahoma, Parker was named Big 12 Pitcher of the Year and All-Big 12 First Team four times. Parker was vital in leading the Sooners to three consecutive appearances in the NCAA Division I Women's College World Series and earned All-Tournament team selections in each of the three appearances.

Last but definitely not least, Allexis "Chip" Bennett will provide her expertise in her first season at Utah as a volunteer assistant coach. A two-time All-American and four-time Pac-12 honoree, Bennett most recently served as an assistant coach at J Serra Catholic High School in San Juan Capistrano, Calif. Bennett also worked as an understudy for the owner of the Orange County Batbusters travel ball organization, helping to develop youth athletes on several teams, focusing on her unique ability to effectively train outfielders. In her four years at UCLA, Bennett was a back-to-back Pac-12 batting champion and posted a career-best .492 batting average in 2015. Bennett helped lead her team to four NCAA College World Series appearances and was a top-10 finalist for Player of the Year in 2015.