A new era begins as softball officially joins the Bronco family in spring of 2009.
The spring of 2009 ushers in a new era for Boise State athletics when women’s softball officially joins the family as the 19th varsity sport on campus. Softball becomes the third sport in the last 11 years to be added by Boise State, following women’s soccer in 1998 and women’s swimming and diving in 2006. Softball will join an athletic department that has experienced great success throughout its history, including a phenomenal year in 2007-08 when Bronco teams captured five conference titles, five second place finishes, and had 12 teams go on to postseason competition. Though it will take time to build a program, the newest addition to the family will be greeted with excitement and energy by both the university community and the city of Boise.
Challenge No. 1, Who’s in charge?
Boise State faced many challenges in starting up a new sport. The biggest was finding a head coach to build the program, the key to a successful start. To head up the project Boise State hired Erin Thorpe in September of 2007 as the first head coach of the program. Thorpe came from Whittier College in California where she took a struggling NCAA Division III program and built it into a winner. The Bronco administration placed the daunting task and responsibility of building the fledgling softball program firmly in her experienced hands.
Since Thorpe’s arrival on campus she has worked relentlessly in overcoming the many challenges that faced her in starting a first year program and setting the ground work in which to build for the future.
Fortunately, she has had plenty of advice from coaches with similar experience as both the current head coaches for soccer and swimming and diving were involved in the startup process of their respective sports at the university.
Among the many projects facing Thorpe when she arrived on campus was putting an office, staff, team and schedule together. All four are still works in progress but completion is finally in site as she prepares to welcome her first team in late August when they report for the fall semester.
Challenge No. 2, Recruiting a team...
The monumental task of putting a team together presented Thorpe with several questions that needed to be considered before proceeding. How should she build the program’s talent? Do you go strictly for high school talent giving you a large freshmen class that will graduate together, do you look heavily towards experienced collegiate transfers that give you leadership but are around for less time, or should you go somewhere in between? Where do you go to get the type of recruits wanted?
To date, Thorpe has signed 16 athletes to national letters of intent. She has done a solid job of mixing the talent and experience of her first team with a balance of seven junior college transfers and nine high school recruits. The roster could still expand some with the potential of a few walk-ons when the team reports to campus in August.
Thorpe wasted no time in heading to familiar ground when she took the reins of the program. She hails from California and immediately jumped into the recruiting wars for high school and junior college talent out of that state. What she could not find in California she recruited out of Arizona and the Pacific Northwest.
► Looking for experience, the transfers...
The experience of the first squad is coming via a group of junior college transfers from California, Oregon, and Washington. Among the seven transfers are five players who were named All-Americans at least once during their career, two received the honor twice. The two-time All-Americans are Kathy Cox from Mt. Hood Community College in Gresham, Ore.. and Jessi Hanna of Lower Columbia College in Longview, Wash., both are infielders. Joining Cox and Hanna as All-Americans are Laeha Hill an outfielder from Sacramento City College in California, Renee Santos a pitcher from Clackamas Community College in Oregon City, Ore., and infielder Laurel Wyatt from Wenatchee Valley College in Wenatchee, Wash., all three earned All-American status once during their junior college careers.
Rounding out the group of juco transfers are Kelsey Perkins a two-time all-conference infielder from South Puget Sound Community College in Olympia, Wash., and Melissa Hartkop an outfielder from Sacramento City College. Hartkop is the only player transferring to Boise State that will be a sophomore next year while the other six will be juniors in eligibility.
The group is made up of four players who played primarily infield positions, two that were outfielders, and one that is a pitcher. The only position that is not covered here is that of the catcher. The seven transfers will give the program a solid foundation to build upon in addition to giving the Broncos some collegiate experience and leadership.
► Looking for depth, the freshmen...
Joining the seven transfers is a solid group of nine talented high school recruits. Eight are from California while the other is from Arizona. All come to Boise State with credentials that include all-league honors, most also earned all-region recognition as well.
This group includes four from northern California in Kelly Sweeney a shortstop out of Foothill High School in Pleasanton, Tazz Weatherly a catcher/infielder from St. Mary’s High School in Stockton, and teammates Allie Crump a pitcher/first baseman and Megan Suitos an outfielder from Elk Grove High School in Elk Grove. They are joined by four southern Californians in Kellie Caplan a infield/outfielder out of El Camino Real High School in Woodland Hills, Christina Capobianco pitcher/first baseman out of El Toro High School in Lake Forest, Ashleigh Viers-Gordillo a first baseman out of Crescenta Valley High School in LaCrescenta, and Aubray Zell a pitcher from Lakewood High School in Lakewood. The class of incoming freshmen is wrapped up with Lexi Straton a catcher from Buena High School in Sierra Vista, Ariz.
Among the true freshmen are three who have pitching experience, two catchers, six who have played in the infield, and three that have outfield experience. The versatility of this group will give the staff the flexibility to experiment with the lineup as the season approaches. This group brings the depth that Thorpe needs on her inaugural team and is a group that she can build around for the next four years.
► The team overall...
One of the first things that will be sorted out when the team reports to campus is the actual role each member will play on the squad. Until the coaching staff has a chance to work with the group of new faces and evaluate where they stand as a program, every position for the inaugural campaign is more or less up for grabs. However, all are expected to battle for significant playing time and starting roles. Most of the 16 recruits have played numerous positions throughout their careers giving the staff some flexibility in putting a lineup together. In all, Thorpe has recruited a group that should give her a solid foundation for the future.
Challenge No. 3, The first schedule...
Another challenge for a new program is putting a schedule together. That is not as easy as it might seem. First year teams at times have to convince already established programs to play them, many of which are concern with their strength of schedule in relation to how it affects postseason play. Secondly it is even more difficult to get them to play at your house.
At the time this publication went to print the schedule was still being worked on. But a large part of it is set accounting for 49 of a maximum 56 games that can be played in a regular season. However a couple things are known, the inaugural pitch will take place on February 6, 2009 when the Broncos take the field for the first time at the Cathedral City Kick-off in Palm Springs, Calif. hosted by Oregon State University. The first home contest for the Broncos will take place on March 6 when they host the State of Idaho Round Robin. The opponents for both openers have not been announced yet.
Most of the early portion of the schedule will see the Broncos on the road when they play in three tournaments which begins with the Cathedral City Kick-off (five games), followed by a tournament at the University of San Diego (five) Feb. 20-22, ending with one at the University of Washington (five) Feb. 27-March 1.
The Broncos will then return home to host the State of Idaho Round Robin (six) March 6-8 featuring Idaho State University, Northwest Nazarene University, and College of Idaho. That will be the last in-season tournament Boise State will participate in switching to head-to-head series instead.
At this time, the Broncos will host 17 home games during the inaugural season. Following the four opening tournaments Boise State will have home series with Utah Valley University (two) and Western Athletic Conference opponents Louisiana Tech University (three), the defending WAC Tournament champions, the University of Nevada (three), the defending WAC regular season champions, and Fresno State (three), the regular season runner-ups and traditional league power. All three home WAC opponents advanced to the NCAA Tournament in 2008.
The non-conference road series include dates at the University of Utah (two), Utah Valley (two), and BYU (one). The WAC road schedule includes three-game series at Utah State University, San Jose State University, New Mexico State University and the University of Hawaii.
The season will conclude with the Western Athletic Conference Tournament at Fresno State in Fresno, California May 6-9. The winner of that competition earns the league’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.
Challenge No. 4, A home for the team...
Finding a home for the team to compete is another major challenge. The university handled this challenge for the program. Boise State and the Boise School District have combined on a joint effort to renovate the softball complex at Mountain Cove as a home for the Broncos. The facility is at the base of the Boise foothills and is about 1.5 miles from campus down Broadway Avenue.
Once the renovations are complete by late August the facility will have a new grass field, press box, dugouts, batting cages, and bleachers. The location places the field in a relatively enclosed area with the foothills which could lead to quite a cozy and loud home field advantage for the Broncos.
Starting a new sport at the collegiate level is never an easy task. However, Boise State is taking on the challenge by adding their third new program in 11 years. It has been a long and hard project to prepare for the newest members of Bronco Nation, but when softball season arrives everything will be in place for the inaugural season. Coach Thorpe has done an excellent job in organizing herself, and has a solid group of athletes coming to campus this fall and has secured a field to call home. The university and city are excited for the program to begin and will be on hand for the home opening pitch on March 6th.