Transferring has become synonymous with the NCAA, and according to 13th-year coach Kim Sowder, Long Beach State softball has been reaping the benefits.
“We’ve had some great transfers come in and compete right away and do some great things for our program,” she said. “Some of them are players we recruited initially, things didn’t work out, but now they want to get closer to home and they have friends here in the program and connect with them.”
LBSU reached a 24th NCAA Regional last season before losing half of its roster to graduation and transfer. Sowder brought in 11 new players for this season, and more than half are transfers or redshirts.
“There is a maturity there because it’s not like we brought in 11 freshmen,” Sowder said. “They have come together and brought great energy. We’re very excited about this season.”
The two most important transfers are in the circle, where Kellie White (Utah State) and Ashley Coleman (Cal Baptist) will try to replace Cielo Meza, who transferred to Arizona State in the offseason. Meza tossed the 27th and 28th no-hitters in LBSU history last season.
“They’ve really stepped up and are hungry to be difference makers,” Sowder said of White and Coleman. “They put in a lot of work in the weight room and they want the ball. They know this is a good program and they have a very solid team behind them.”
Junior Devyn Magnett is the only returning pitcher on the roster with quality innings under her belt. Magnett was All-Big West honorable mention last year while posting a 10-6 record and 3.08 ERA. Sowder said that freshman Presley Miraglia also will get some time in the circle. She won 65 games in four years at Burroughs High.
With question marks on the pitching staff, LBSU was ranked No. 25 nationally in the preseason poll because of its offensive prowess. The LBSU offense set school records every season for the last three years, and last year the Beach broke its own records with 486 hits, 91 doubles and a .306 team batting average.
The biggest bat back in the lineup will be junior Taylor Rowland. She became the fifth All-American in school history last year by earning second-team honors from the National Fastpitch Coaches Association. The first baseman led LBSU with 12 home runs, and set a school record with 58 RBIs.
Big West Freshman of the Year Naomi Hernandez is also back for her sophomore year in the outfield. Last season, Hernandez led LBSU with a .457 on-base percentage and a .387 batting average, which is the third-best in school history. She also tied the LBSU single-season record with 18 doubles.
The most important returner for LBSU actually hasn’t returned yet as shortstop Nichole Fry is waiting to be 100% healthy before taking the field. Fry was first team All-Big West last season, and has hit .302 in three years at LBSU. She should return to the lineup later this month.
“We absolutely love that kid and she’s the ultimate team player,” Sowder said. “She’s pretty soft spoken but her actions on the field are very loud. She’s always putting in the extra work and trying to get better. She comes back stronger and faster each year.”
“Right now I just want to play,” Fry said. “I don’t want to put too much pressure on myself, especially for my senior season, I just want to leave it all out on the field.”
Fry added that learning from coach Sowder, who was an LBSU Hall Of Fame softball player, has made her time at the Beach very special.
“She’s such a competitor, and such a mom,” Fry said of Sowder. “She’s just always there supporting. She understands and she’s been through it so she’s hard on us but she gets it. I’m more comfortable with coach because I can open up more. I’ve always played for guy coaches, so to come here and play for her has been amazing.”
Fry had to watch online updates from home last week while LBSU opened the season at the Easton Desert Classic in Las Vegas. The Beach went 3-2 over three days, and capped the tournament with a thrilling 16-10 win over Utah Valley. The teams combined for 32 hits and eight errors, and after Utah Valley tied the game 9-9 in the top of the sixth inning, LBSU responded with seven runs in the bottom of the frame.
LBSU outfielder Jamie Wren led her team with eight hits and 13 RBIs over the weekend. The four pitchers Magnett, While, Coleman and Miraglia combined for a 3.28 ERA with 26 strikeouts and 12 walks over 32 innings.
The Beach returns to the LBSU Softball Complex this weekend to host the Stacy Winsberg Invitational for visiting Oregon State, Fresno State and Boise State.