University Beat: BYU softball team in transition, but still aims to compete
The BYU women's softball team might just as well be called the Nomads.
A perennial power within the Mountain West Conference, the Cougars (7-3) will spend this season in the Western Athletic Conference before settling in as a member of the Pacific Coast Softball Conference in 2013.
Right now, though, coach Gordon Eakin will concentrate on competing for a WAC title and an eighth consecutive season of 40-plus wins and an NCAA Tournament berth.
The young Cougars, picked for fourth place in the WAC preseason poll, have jumped out to a 7-3 start. Come conference time, however, BYU will have its hands full with Hawaii (12-0), New Mexico State (9-2) and Fresno State (7-2).
"Combining our usual competitive preseason schedule with great teams from the WAC this year should be very challenging," Eakin said prior to the start of the season. "With our schedule and a young team like we have this year, there is more uncertainty than in the past."
More important, Eakin needs to find another Paige Affleck. The graduated senior was a 2011 Easton All-American as well as BYU's career leader in wins, strikeouts and earned-run average.
In addition, two-time All-American and BYU career RBI leader Jessica Fitu also graduated, as did three-time All-Region second baseman Kristin Delahoussaye.
That's a lot of pitching and offense to replace.
"We have the talent, but how fast they can grow early on in the season is the key," Eakin said.
Delaney Willard, who hit 11 home runs in 51 games last season and is one of four seniors with three conference championship rings, has already shown herself to be a force at the plate. She was the WAC Offensive Player of the Week recently, with three long balls and nine runs batted in during the season-opening Kajikawa Classic.
Willard, hitting a robust .536 after 10 games, totaled 21 bases as the Cougars defeated then-No. 15 Texas A&M and No. 11 Oregon.
Caroline Umphlett has emerged on the mound, going 4-0 with a save and a 2.16 ERA.
Eakin believes hard work will eventually create talent out of potential.
"We should end up where we want to be," he said.
And that should be an eighth straight NCAA Tournament.