UH aims to build on early hype
With all of last season’s starters and pitchers returning, the Cougars are the preseason favorites to win Conference USA.
The Cougars were voted preseason number one in C-USA by conference officials after finishing 30-24-1 (12-10-1 C-USA) and in fifth place in C-USA last season. While head coach Kyla Holas is pleased with the acknowledgment, it is no guarantee.
“To get that nod early has no indication of what the season is going to be, but it’s nice to know that it’s out there,” Holas said. “That’s always our goal, when we sit down at the end of the year and the beginning of the season, we write our goals down and that was one of them, to make sure that we’re number one.”
Led by preseason All-C-USA picks pitcher Donna Bourgeois, utility player Reina Gaber and outfielder Ashleigh Jones, the Cougars are expecting to have a good season. This year’s team will have experience and depth with all of last year’s starters returning.
“We still consider ourselves pretty young, but we have a really good group,” Holas said. “We have a lot of depth that we can go to, we’re excited about our options. We have high expectations. Not getting a regional bid last year left a sour taste in their mouths, so they’ve got a lot to prove.”
Holas said she expects the team to make a big run in C-USA to earn a berth in postseason play.
The addition of Bourgeois will add strength to the pitching staff. The senior transfer from Louisiana-Lafayette brings a 69-24 record with her to UH. Her presence should help the team raise their pitching numbers after finishing sixth in C-USA in 2010.
“She’s a very mentally tough person,” Holas said. “Anytime you can get a 20-game winner in, as a staff you get excited.”
The Cougars ranked fifth in fielding and in team batting in C-USA last season with the help of power hitters Brooke Latahan and Melissa Gregson.
“We want to focus on offense, because this year we actually have one of the most talented hitting groups that we’ve ever had,” Gaber said. “As long as we get our mental game down, we’ll be a force to be reckoned with.”
The Cougars will play their first nine games at home and host No. 8 Michigan to kick of the season in the Houston Hilton Plaza Invitational, which runs Feb. 11 – 13. The team will also face Southern Illinois, Ohio and Stephen F. Austin during the first weekend of games.
The action will continue with Houston Hilton Plaza Classic on Feb. 18 – 20, as Houston faces Oklahoma State, Nicholls State, LSU and Southern.
With UH hosting both tournaments, performing well on the homefield is essential to establishing a strong start.
“It’s really important to get off to a good start,” Jones said. “We should win all home games.”
The Cougars will face four others ranked in the Top 25: No.22 Oklahoma State, No. 19 Texas A&M, No. 16 LSU and No. 15 Texas.