For the first time in 22 years, Sacramento State will begin the season with a new head coach. The team also enters 2014 with new uniforms, two new assistant coaches, a new scoreboard, a newly designed outfield fence, and a number of other new amenities.
After spending 13 years with the program as either a player or assistant coach, Lori Perez will take over the head coaching duties for Kathy Strahan, who retired after 21 years at the helm.
Perez, who was a Hornet assistant the last nine years, brought in assistant coaches Nichole Willis and Danielle Kaminaka who both have enjoyed highly successful careers as players and coaches.
One of the few things that isn't new in 2014 is the veteran-laden roster that features 16 returners from a year ago. That includes seven positional starters and the entire pitching staff from a Hornet roster that finished the 2013 season with a 22-22 overall record and 7-8 mark in the Big Sky Conference.
More than half the roster is made up of underclassmen, comprised of three seniors, six juniors, eight sophomores and four freshmen. However, 13 of those players already have Div. I at-bats under their belts and each of the team's four pitchers made at least nine appearances in the circle last season.
Of the team's 16 returners, four received some form of all-league recognition last season, comprised of junior pitcher Caitlin Brooks (first team), junior right fielder Paige Martin (honorable mention), sophomore catcher Kortney Solis (honorable mention), and sophomore third baseman Alyssa Vanderdrink (honorable mention).
Sacramento State, which has just three losing seasons in the last 11 years, relied heavily on a pitching staff that posted a Big Sky-best 2.33 ERA in 2013. Three of the team's four pitchers posted sub-3.00 ERA's, including Brooks who was the team's workhorse after going 14-7 with a league-best 1.81 ERA in 151.0 innings pitched. Fourth-year senior Taylor Stroud posted a league-high 1.27 ERA in conference play, and sophomore Jennifer Hartman limited the opposition to a .232 batting average as a true freshman.
Stroud will serve as a team tri-captain along with senior catcher Paris Prado and junior outfielder Alexa Chattleton.
Perhaps the biggest question mark heading into 2014 is the team's offense, which posted a .269 batting average, .362 slugging percentage and 14 home runs last season. All three of those marks were the lowest for the program in eight years, and the team's production with the bats will need to improve if the Hornets want to contend for a Big Sky title.
Sacramento State will enter its second season in the Big Sky, which added softball to its list of sports last year. The seven-team league will again consist of the Hornets, Idaho State, Portland State, Southern Utah, Northern Colorado, Weber State and North Dakota. The regular-season champion will host the four-team, double-elimination Big Sky Championship with the winner receiving an automatic berth into NCAA Regional play. Idaho State won last season's regular season title and Portland State won the Big Sky Championship.
The Hornets were the No. 3 seed in last year's tournament but suffered a pair of gut-wrenching one-run losses. Sacramento State was selected to finish second in this year's Big Sky preseason poll behind Idaho State, and in front of Southern Utah and Portland State to round out the top four places.
• This year's pitching staff will consist of the same four players that made up last year's staff. That includes three right-handers and a lefty, and each of the four made at least nine appearances in the circle last season.
• The staff, which is made up of senior Taylor Stroud, junior Caitlin Brooks, and sophomores Jennifer Hartman and Kaitlyn Yerby, combined to post a 2.33 ERA, which was easily the top mark in the Big Sky and the 40th best in the nation among the 289 Div. I squads.
• Brooks and Stroud, who are both right-handers, will likely get the bulk of the starts this year while Hartman will also garner a number of starts and left-hander Yerby will get most of her appearances in the reliever role.
• Brooks enters her third year with the program and returns after a 2013 season in which she was first team all-conference and a five-time Big Sky Pitcher of the Week selection. The Escalon, Calif., native won 14 games, posted a 1.81 ERA and led the Hornets in virtually every statistical pitching category. She had 17 complete games, eight shutouts, 151 strikeouts, a 3.8-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ratio, and finished 11th in the nation in hits allowed per seven innings (4.17). Amazingly, Brooks posted at least one shutout against each of the five conference teams she faced a year ago.
• Stroud, who is a team tri-captain and one of two fourth-year seniors on the squad, made 19 appearances in the circle a year ago, including eight starts and seven complete games. She posted a 2.47 ERA in 90.2 innings, and improved that mark against Big Sky opposition to a league-best 1.27 in conference games. Stroud has never posted an ERA higher than 2.55 during her career as the model of consistency has ERAs of 2.52, 2.55 and 2.47, respectively, during her first three seasons. She has thrown 353.0 innings in a Hornet uniform and her 26 wins are tied for the 10th most in Sacramento State's Div. I era (1990-pres.).
• Hartman made 10 appearances last season as a true freshman, including nine starts and three complete games. She finished the year 4-4 with a 2.93 ERA and limited the opposition to a .232 batting average in 40.2 innings. The Bonita, Calif., native tossed an eight-inning shutout against Kansas last year, allowing seven hits while striking out a season-high eight batters. Making the performance even more impressive is Kansas entered that game as the nation's top hitting team.
• Yerby made nine appearances in the circle for the Hornets as a redshirt freshman. The Modesto, Calif., native went 0-1 with a 3.73 ERA in 30.0 innings pitched. Yerby was particularly strong in relief, where she posted a 2.77 ERA in her six appearances out of the bullpen. That included 4.2 innings of shutout relief against Saint Mary's.
• Sacramento State has four catchers on the roster, comprised of senior Paris Prado, sophomores Kortney Solis and T.J. Watts, and freshman Nikki Gialketsis. Solis is the likely starter after a freshman season in which she started 41 games at the position and was an honorable mention all-Big Sky selection.
• Solis had an impressive freshman campaign in which she batted .286 with eight doubles, three home runs and 17 RBIs. Among team leaders, she was first in slugging percentage (.437), and second in both doubles and home runs. She caught a pitching staff that finished with a 2.33 ERA, and finished the year with a .304 average against conference opposition, and .304 with runners in scoring position.
• Prado, who is one of three team captains, is back for her third season with the team. One of just three seniors on Sacramento State's squad, the Antioch, Calif., native appeared in 13 games last year, including one start at catcher and 11 games as a defensive replacement.
• Gialketsis enters her freshman season after prepping at Manhattan Beach's Mira Costa High School where she was a four-year varsity starter at catcher and outfielder. She was a first team all-league and all-area choice as a senior after batting .434. Gialketsis could also see time in the outfield this season.
• After playing sparingly during a good portion of the season, Watts started the final three games of 2013 at first base, including both games of the Big Sky Tournament. The Petaluma, Calif., native will likely see the majority of her playing time this year at first base or catcher.
• Sophomore third baseman Alyssa Vanderdrink leads a list of eight players who could see time in the infield this year. Vanderdrink, who was an honorable mention all-Big Sky selection last year, will make the transition to third base in 2014 after starting at both first base and shortstop last season.
• Fourth-year senior Yesenia Alcala, who has started 59 career games at shortstop for the Hornets, will likely get the nod at short again this year. Ball State transfer Sasha Margulies is the probable starter at first base and a two-way battle between junior Paige Castro and sophomore Kayla Papez exists for the starting nod at second.
• Freshman Alexis Martinez, who started seven of the team's first eight games of the 2013 season before suffering a knee injury and missing the final 36 contests, is back and will see the majority of her starts at designated player.
• Freshman Jessica Ravetti and sophomore T.J. Watts round out the list of infielders who will be active in 2014. Riley Price, who would be a junior this season, will miss the year with injury.
• Vanderdrink can play any position on the infield and had an impressive freshman campaign when she batted .281 with a team-high four home runs and 18 RBIs. The 5-9 native of Lake Elsinore hit safely in the team's final eight games of 2013, batting .407 (11-for-27) during that stretch with three doubles and six runs scored.
• One of just two fourth-year seniors on the squad, Alcala started 33 games at shortstop last season. She has started at least eight games at the position during each of her first three years with the program and has played in 82 career games in a Hornet uniform.
• Margulies spent her freshman season at Ball State last year where she appeared in just two games for a Cardinals squad that finished the year 37-17. In those two games, she went 2-for-3 with two runs, two RBIs and a .667 slugging percentage. She has impressed in a Hornet uniform thus far, gaining the starting nod at first base and will likely be hitting in the middle of Sacramento State's lineup.
• Papez started 37 games at second base as a true freshman in 2013, and hit .272 with eight runs, three doubles, a team-high 15 walks and a .376 on-base percentage. The Glendora, Calif., native batted .310 with runners in scoring position and six of her 12 RBIs came with two outs in an inning.
• Castro redshirted last season at Sacramento State after playing the 2011 and 2012 seasons at Fairleigh Dickinson. She started 84 games at shortstop during her two seasons with the Knights, batting a combined .255 during her tenure.
• Ravetti, who has shown some of the most power on the team despite being a true freshman, will likely garner the majority of her at-bats at designated player. The 5-foot-9 first baseman prepped at Alameda High School where she was a four-year starter for the varsity team while hitting .397 during her high school career.
• A total of six players on the roster could see time in the outfield, highlighted by the Hornets' top returning offensive threat in Paige Martin. The 5-foot-7 native of Vancouver, Wash., started all 44 games last season in right field, and she will man the position again in 2014. The starting job in center field will likely go to true freshman Shelby Johnston, and juniors Alexa Chattleton and Nicole Clark are both possibilities to start in left field. Chattleton, Clark and sophomore Makenzie Wayadande are three of the fastest players on the team, and any of the three could potentially wind up as the first pinch runner off the bench if not already in the outfield.
• Martin was an honorable mention all-Big Sky selection after batting a team-high .336 with 16 runs, six doubles, two triples, 14 walks and a .420 on-base percentage. The Vancouver, Wash., native really shined in clutch situations where she hit .500 (22-for-44) with runners in scoring position, .435 (30-for-69) with runners on base and .400 (20-for-50) with two outs in an inning. She had four hitting streaks of at least four games or longer, and brings a career .303 batting average into the season.
• Chattleton is a team tri-captain, and is back for her third season with the team after starting 32 games in the outfield last year, primarily in left. The Rancho Santa Margarita, Calif., native came on strong offensively towards the end of the season when she was a Big Sky all-tournament selection after going 3-for-7 with two runs, a triple, home run and three RBIs during the Big Sky Championship.
• Entering her third season with the Hornets, Clark has played in 52 career games. She started 14 games in left field last year, and has the ability to swing away and slap hit. In fact, Clark is the only player on the team who could potentially slap hit this year.
• Johnston will be a true freshman after a remarkable prep career where she started four years in the outfield for the varsity squad at Inglemoor High School in Kenmore, Wash. Johnston hit a career .461 with 30 doubles, 41 stolen bases, 10 home runs, 74 RBIs and a .683 slugging percentage. She was an all-conference selection all four years of her career, including first team during her final two seasons.
• Wayadande played in 24 games as a true freshman in 2013, starting 12 times at designated player. Eleven of her appearances came as a pinch runner, the second most on the team.
• Freshman Nikki Gialketsis, who will see the bulk of her playing time at catcher, could also see time in the outfield.