ARLINGTON, Texas - UTA softball is set to get its first taste of action under new head coach Peejay Brun on Thursday when it hosts Odessa College at 2:30 p.m. at Allan Saxe Field. Admission is free to watch the fall exhibition contest.
Taking the field for the first time as Mavericks, six newcomers will get their first experience of softball at UTA. Two of the newcomers make up the team's pitching staff after four departures and include sophomore JoJo Valencia and junior Michal Hylton. Valencia transferred from Incarnate Word, while Hylton joins from Creighton.
"It is about getting comfortable as a pitching staff," Valencia said of expectations during the fall slate. "We just have to rely on each other and trust each other's abilities, we know we can't do it all by our self and just have to believe that we can be successful."
Three of the team's four all-conference players return to this year's lineup, including both former NFCA All-Region selections in Krista Rude and Sandra Mendoza. However, the weight of the team has fallen on a new staff that is built around a group of first-year coaches to all grow together.
"The biggest challenge is getting to understand each other," assistant coach Charlotte Morgan said. "They are both transfers, so they are new to the school, the program, the coaching staff and to me so I think it is just understanding each other and getting to know what their strengths and weaknesses are and getting them to trust me and my process. I am a lot different than what they are used to. So it is about understanding that and manage that. We are going to have to go into each game and know we may have to use both of them in each game. They are all about it and it's a lot of work, but its about understanding the process."
Valencia played her freshman season at Incarnate Word and led the staff in ERA, wins and strikeouts. In high school, she was an All-District MVP in 2016, while also shining at the plate with a .311 batting average. Hylton played two years at Creighton, appearing in 32 games in her sophomore season and 15 in her opening year. She was secon on the team in innings pitched (109.2) and in strikeouts (71). In high school, she was a 2012 state champion in Oklahoma, and holds the record for most strikeouts in the state with 1,068.
Behind the two arms, UTA is a team with expectations continue the rise of the program. The Mavericks reached the Sun Belt semifinals for the first time since joining the conference, falling to Texas State 1-0 in the semifinals, a team that would reach the NCAA Tournament as an at-large. UTA founds its stride down the stretch, winning 10 of its last 15 games against top-100 RPI squads with wins that included Texas State (2), South Alabama (2), Georgia State and Houston.
Getting on the same page is a priority for UTA during its five-game fall slate. With three new coaches, it is a growing experience to see where the team is at. However, the growing pains can also be a positive with two newcomers in the circle to go with a new pitching coach.
In that way, we are all on the same pace and I can implement things," Morgan said. "They can both lean on each other and that gives us a good vibe in the bullpen because one is not already ahead. Sometimes when they understand what they are already doing, another may be left behind. The two of them have been great and the catchers have been great in working with them. They understand I'm a lot more technical and it is a different level than they are used to. They are starting to understand and adapt the new standard that we hold them to."
Following its game against Odessa, UTA travels to UT Dallas for a two-game trip that includes a contest against the host and a matchup against Midwestern State on Oct. 7. UTA then welcomes Vernon College on Oct. 17 and Tarleton State on Oct. 21. Admission is free to all home exhibition contests at Allan Saxe Field.
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