Friday, February 3, 2017

Mountain West coaches predict Fresno State to three-peat and win title

Graphic:  Mountain West Conference / Mountain West Network
Mountain West softball coaches predicted Fresno State would three-peat as conference champions in balloting revealed this week.

Coach Linda Garza's Bulldogs received four first-place votes and 59 total points to secure the top spot ahead of San Diego State, which is predicted second (three first-place votes, 57 points).  Selected third was San Jose State (two first-place votes, 55 points).

The three California schools clearly separated themselves from the rest of the conference.  While the gap between the projected top three teams was only four points, the margin between the projected third- and fourth-place finishers was a whopping 22 points.

In a closely-bunched middle of the pack (fourth thru eighth place), Utah State earned 33 points, followed by Nevada (32), Colorado State and UNLV tied (26), and New Mexico (25).  Boise State was predicted last on every ballot from opposing coaches, finishing with the minimum 8 points.

Two-time defending conference champion Fresno State (22-1 in MW play a year ago) returns five starters and 13 letter winners, including 2016 Mountain West Player of the Year Kierra Willis, and all-MW selections Lindsey Willmon and Malia Rivers.  Ten newcomers will wear Bulldog red for the first time, including an incoming freshman recruiting class ranked 18th best in the country by Flo Softball, and a pair of junior college Division I All-Americans.

San Diego State (12-12 in MW play last season) returns seven starters, while San Jose State (17-7 in MW action in 2016) returns four.

The Spartans will begin their season Thursday, February 9, in Tempe, while the Bulldogs begin their season -- also in Tempe -- on Friday, February 10.  Also starting the 2017 season on February 10 are the Aztecs, who open the year in Los Angeles.