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This Week in WAC Softball - Feb. 15
Courtesy: Hawai‘i
Brigham Young’s Delaney Willard and Hawai‘i’s Stephanie Ricketts have been named the Verizon Western Athletic Conference Hitter and Pitcher of the Week, respectively, for Feb. 6-12. This is the first-ever honor for Willard and the first of the season and eighth overall for Ricketts.

Willard, a senior right fielder from Camarillo, Calif., led the Cougars to a 3-2 record at the Kajikawa Classic last week, including wins over No. 15 Texas A&M and No. 11 Oregon. She was 9-for-17 (.529) with three home runs, two doubles, nine RBI, six runs scored and a 1.235 slugging percentage. Willard had a career-high four hits vs. Texas State and scored four runs against UC Santa Barbara, tying a BYU record. She also drove in all five of BYU’s runs in Thursday’s games and totaled 21 total bases on the week, an average of more than four per game.

Ricketts, a senior from San Jose, Calif., picked up three complete-game wins during opening weekend en route to Most Valuable Pitcher honors at the Paradise Classic. She posted a 1.33 ERA, allowing four runs in 21.0 innings of work. She also had 24 strikeouts and only five walks on the week. Against DePaul, she fired a two-hit shutout and faced just two batters over the minimum, retiring 17 batters in a row from the first through the sixth innings. It marked the 24th shutout of her career and first of the season.

Other Hitter of the Week nominees included: Fresno State’s Kaitlin Griffin hit .364 with two homers and six RBI ... Jessica Iwata of Hawai‘i hit .533 with two doubles, one homer and seven RBI … Louisiana Tech’s Jenna Frandrup hit .556 with five hits and five walks … Sam Puzey of Nevada hit .385 with one double and two RBI on the week … New Mexico State’s Tiare Jennings hit .462 with two home runs and seven RBI as the Aggies went 4-0 to start the season … Jessica Garcia of San Jose State hit .429 with a double, a home run and four RBI … Utah State’s Lindsey Marquez hit .286 with a double and two RBI on the week.

Other Pitcher of the Week nominees included: Brigham Young’s Caroline Umphlett posted a 3-0 record with a 1.70 ERA and 12 strikeouts in 12.1 innings pitched … Michelle Jones of Louisiana Tech went 1-1 with a 1.50 ERA on the week … Nevada’s Mallary Darby went 1-1 with a 1.83 ERA and 13 strikeouts ... Alex Newman of New Mexico State went 3-0 with a 4.38 ERA and 11 strikeouts on the week ... Utah State’s Dani Chaplin went 1-0 with a 0.00 ERA and six strikeouts in 4.0 innings of work.

Hawai‘i pitcher Stephanie Ricketts is one of the 30 student-athletes selected as candidates for the 2012 Lowe’s Senior CLASS Award.

The two-time reigning WAC Pitcher of the Year was named an Easton All-American last season and is Hawai‘i’s all-time strikeout leader. A three-time All-West Region honoree, she has been named an NFCA Scholar-Athlete and Academic all-WAC three times.

To be eligible for the award, a student-athlete must be classified as a senior and have notable achievements in four areas of excellence – community, classroom, character and competition.

The 30 candidates will be narrowed to 10 finalists midway through the regular season, and those 10 names will be placed on the official ballot.

Hawai’i shortstop Jessica Iwata was one of 50 student-athletes selected to the watch list for the 11th annual USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year award.

Iwata, a two-time WAC Player of the Year, led the Rainbow Wahine last season with a .355 batting average, a .663 slugging percentage and a .447 on-base percentage. Iwata also led UH in runs scored (43), hits (60), home runs (15) and RBI (44), and finished the season on a nine-game hitting streak. She accumulated more multiple-hit games (16) and multiple-RBI games (13) than any other Rainbow Wahine in 2011. Iwata was also voted to the NFCA All-West Region second team for the second straight year and was named a second team Easton All-American last year as a sophomore.

Iwata is just the fourth Rainbow Wahine to ever be selected to the “Top 50 Watch List.” Last season both Melissa Gonzalez and Kelly Majam were chosen to the list. Before that, the only player to ever represent Hawai’i was Kate Robinson in her senior season, 2008.

The award, which is considered the most prestigious honor in Division I women’s collegiate softball, is designed to recognize outstanding athletic achievement by collegiate softball players across the country. The 2012 Watch List is comprised of 23 seniors, 20 juniors and seven sophomores representing 31 universities and 13 conferences.

The Top 25 finalists for the 2012 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year award will be announced April 11. The Top 10 finalists will be announced May 9 and the Top 3 finalists will be announced May 23. On May 29, prior to the start of the 2012 NCAA Women’s College World Series (WCWS) in Oklahoma City, the 2012 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year will be revealed.

New Mexico State will host the 2012 WAC Softball Tournament. The top six teams will advance to the double-elimination tournament, which will be held at the NM State Softball Complex from May 9-12. It is the second time the Aggies have hosted the event, as they did so in 2010, as well.

Top-seeded New Mexico State shut out No. 3-seed Fresno State 5-0 to claim its first-ever WAC Tournament title last season in Fresno and earn the WAC’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.

The WAC softball coaches selected Fresno State to win the 2012 WAC regular-season crown. It is the 14th time in the last 17 years that the Bulldogs have been the preseason favorite to win the title.

Fresno State took the top spot in the preseason poll with 44 points and three first-place votes. Hawai‘i came in second, picking up two first-place votes and 42 points, followed by New Mexico State in third place with 37 points and two first-place votes. Brigham Young received the other first-place vote and came in fourth place with 35 points. Nevada was picked to finish fifth with 20 points, followed by San Jose State and Louisiana Tech tied for sixth with 17 points apiece. Utah State rounded out the poll in eighth place with 12 points.

The preseason all-WAC team is composed of the returning all-conference players from last season. Hawai’i placed the most players on the team with four, while Fresno State and New Mexico State had three apiece.

The WAC will feature nine players who were first team all-conference performers last year. Three come from New Mexico State - Teresa Conrad, Tiare Jennings and reigning WAC Freshman of the Year Valerie Swedberg. Brigham Young returns Carly Duckworth and Jessica Dugas, both of whom were named to the all-Mountain West team last season. Fresno State returns two players (Michelle Moses and Andrea Ortega), while Hawai‘i returns reigning WAC Pitcher of the Year Stephanie Ricketts and reigning WAC Player of the Year Jessica Iwata.

Second team returnees include: Alex Aguirre,Hawai‘i; Janna Frandrup, Louisiana Tech; Erin Jones, Nevada; Allison Lenzora, Utah State; Kelly Majam, Hawai‘i; Brooke Ortiz, Fresno State; and Kassy Uchida, Utah State.
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