Tough schedule awaits Cougars
Several new faces will step onto the softball diamond this weekend, as the UH softball team begins its 2010 regular season.
The Cougars will host the Marriott Houston Hobby Classic four months removed their last game, a 1-0 exhibition loss to Texas.
Houston will field a team with no seniors, six freshman and three transfers, making for a young team with many new parts to integrate.
“We have nine newcomers coming out to the team, so we’re going to make some mistakes, but right now we’re working hard,” head coach Kyla Holas said.
The team had a chance to enjoy an informal game Saturday against former UH players when, in honor of the 10-year anniversary of UH’s softball program, fans selected an All-Decade team. The squad included program standouts such as 2007 Conference USA Player of the Year Jessica Valis and pitcher Jamie Falco, who is the owner of eight career school records.
The current team beat their predecessors 16-1, but Holas knows her young players can learn a lot from their elders.
“It was a great night. I was glad so many people were able to come back,” Holas said. “I was also excited to see everyone’s family here. I hope our current players are able to see and learn from the rich tradition we created.”
Despite last weekend’s success, Holas knows this season’s schedule is filled with challenges. The first test comes Friday, when the Cougars take on USA Today preseason No. 14 Ohio State at 7 p.m. The Buckeyes went 47-11 last season, and they are expected to turn more heads in 2010.
“You have three teams of that list in the Top 25 — Ohio St, Louisville and Baylor — so any one of those (games) are going to be huge,” Holas said. “We have to make sure we play cleanly against them. We can’t give them extra opportunities,” Holas said.
Juniors Amanda Crabtree and Baillie Lott, along with freshman Bailey Watts, will anchor a Cougars pitching rotation that should improve upon last season’s struggles.
“We were worried about not having Watts for the season due to injury, and Lott as well,” Holas said. “To have them all year and be relatively healthy, we’re pretty excited,” Holas said.
A lengthy layoff has UH’s players and coaches anxious to return to the field.
“We’re excited. It has been a long preseason,” Holas said. “It’s usually a pretty good situation. You get a lot of eager people that first opening weekend, and you just have to see who’s going to be more ready, the pitching or the offense.”
Sophomore catcher Melissa Gregson could have a breakout season after garnering significant playing time last year as a freshman replacement for sophomore Jennifer Klinkert. Holas expects Gregson to spend even more time on the field this season.
“We’re really excited to have Gregson back. She was injured that last weekend (against Texas), and we had to play two people at catcher who had never caught before,” Holas said.
After facing Ohio State on Friday, the Cougars will play a double header on Saturday, beginning at 5 p.m.
UH will face off against No. 21 Louisville, which went 48-11 last season, in the first game. The Cougars will take on Kansas, which is in the first season of the post-Tracy Bunge era, shortly after the conclusion of the first game. Bunge spent 13 seasons as head coach of the Jayhawks.
UH will face a Texas two-step on Sunday, as it takes on No. 15 Baylor (40-22 last season) at 1 p.m. and Sam Houston State (28-26 last season) at 3 p.m.
“Kansas is rebuilding; they have a brand new head coach, and Sam Houston State is always a tough play for us,” Holas said. “Those kids are local. We play them every year. This whole weekend, it’s anybody’s game,” Holas said.