Head coach Jon Cox is optimistic about the Eagles' 2024 softball season. He sees the team's strength as "our ability to hit the ball." He likes their pitching. He likes what his assistant coaches are contributing. Though less sure about the defense, he expects that to get worked out during a challenging pre-conference schedule.
Inclement weather has had an impact early, like it often has since he took over the program a dozen years ago. Playing top teams in the preseason may not be good for their winning percentage, but Cox foresees many successes as the season progresses.
"I feel we have a great chance to compete for the GVC championship," he said. "After the preseason we'll have a good idea of who we are. Hopefully we'll get on a roll and take a lot of confidence into conference."
The weather forced many postponements a year ago, but the Eagles eventually did get it rolling and won 7 of their last 10 games. Key players returning from that team include infielders Shyla Mead of Roseburg, OR; Maddalyn Fullenwider of Medford, OR; and Samantha Ray of Ontario, OR; and returning catcher Abigail Wolf of Colusa.
They're joined on the roster by sophomore outfielder Moriah Hoshowski of Roseburg, OR, a transfer from Butte, and 10 freshmen. Cox said the team will lean on Hoshowski to be productive on offense along with freshmen like centerfielder Nevaeh Harry of Grants Pass, OR, outfielder Shelby Flournoy of Paskenta, outfielder/pitcher Ashley Falk of Grants Pass, infielder/catcher Grace Hubbard of Etna, "top utility player" Emma Murphy of Roseburg, and infielder Kylie Kendall of Dayton, OR.
Also new to the team are Kanalei Brasch of Mount Shasta, who plays first base, as does Shayelynn Totten of Grants Pass, who will also see time as the Eagles' designated player (DP), a hitter in the lineup who doesn't play the field.
Mead and Fullenwider "are going to anchor the offense," according to Cox. Mead, who has moved to shortstop this season, earned First Team All-GVC honors as a freshman. She led last year's Eagles with a .426 batting average, .462 on-base percentage, and 15 runs batted in in conference. She was second in the GVC with 9 stolen bases.
Fullenwider is a returning starter at first base, and Ray plays mostly second and third base.
Cox said Harry is a centerfielder/catcher with both power and speed, while Murphy can play second base, third base, and both corner outfield positions. Kendall, listed on the roster as a utility player, will see time at third base, as will Hubbard.
The weather allowed the Eagles to have only a few outdoor practices before they opened their season January 27 in Sacramento. They scored just one run, on a single by Hoshowski, in their first four games, losses against Sacramento City, Sequoias, and perennial top-five team San Mateo.
"We looked like a team that hasn't been on the field much," Cox said. "Our pitching, defense, and the timing of our hitters were all one step behind."
But Cox believes their tough schedule will be a benefit in the long run. "Winning is important," he said, "but the new state playoffs format ranks teams by their RPI index. The tougher your schedule, the higher your RPI index. You could finish under .500 and still make the playoffs. If we make the playoffs, it will be because we earned it. We're not playing patty-cakes. But we need to win some games against beatable teams and get prepared for the GVC. If we can finish top two in the GVC, we'll have a good shot to make playoffs."
A former infielder for the Eagle baseball team, Cox has been the head softball coach since 2012. He describes himself as a "defensive-minded coach" and, as such, sees a need for this year's team to improve in that area. "We need to step up on defense," he said. "I'm not satisfied yet with our team defense, but we'll get to a point where I'm satisfied. They're all working hard and absorbing information. We need to get them more confident."
Sanchez, returning to the team after a hiatus, coaches first base and works with the outfielders. Cox describes Morena as a "high-energy" coach who has moved over from the baseball team. Mendez is a former Eagle player who is helping with pitchers, catchers, and hitting. Their goal, Cox said, is to "get players in the right position to do well."
They expect to have some "great road trips" between now and their first home games of the season March 22nd against Redwoods.
They're scheduled to play a doubleheader at Chabot in Hayward this Thursday.
By Steve Gerace