Utah softball showed significant signs of improvement during the final portion of the 2019 regular season. Head coach Amy Hogue is ready to see what the new year has in store as she looks to guide the Utes back to the postseason.
Sydney Sandez won four of her final five starts in 2019 and was the team's top pitcher, amassing 11 victories and a winning record as a freshman. With 38 appearances, which were third most in the Pac-12, she ranked 11th in the conference with 123 1/3 innings pitched. Her six Pac-12 wins ranked seventh in the conference, with the highlights including a victory over No. 3 Washington and two triumphs over Oregon and Cal.
Claire Feldman also returns after making 17 appearances and starts against No. 6 Tennessee and No. 5 Arizona. Her younger sister, Mary Beth Feldman, will join her on this year's team as a freshman. Mary Beth was a member of back-to-back ASA Florida state championship teams.
Another returnee is Jess Lynch, who pitched in 20 games while making three starts a year ago. She had six scoreless relief appearances that resulted in a pair of wins. Halle Morris from Tucson, Ariz., was named to FloSoftball's Hot 100 as she was ranked the No. 8 player in the state of Arizona by MaxPreps.com.
Julia Noskin, an NFCA All-Region and All-Pac-12 selection, moves over to shortstop after starting every game at second base a season ago. She led Utah with 36 runs scored and nine stolen bases, while placing second on the team with 54 hits and third in batting with a .318 average.
Over at the hot corner will be sophomore Ellessa Bonstrom. She ranked sixth in the Pac-12 in walks and eighth in doubles last year. Bonstrom also hit .323 and slugged .645 against conference opponents.
Alyssa Palacios started 38 games at first a year ago. Newcomer Madi Jacobus, ranked the No. 71 player in the nation by Flo Softball, at takes over at second base.
The outfield features a pair of seniors, Alyssa Barrera and BreOnna Castaneda. Barrera, a two-time NFCA All-Region and All-Pac-12 selection, paced Utah with a .376 batting average (13th in the Pac-12). She also finished second on the team with 30 runs scored, nine doubles and a .599 slugging percentage (15th in the Pac-12). Her seven triples topped the conference and ranked fifth nationally. In conference play, Barrera hit .429 (5th in the Pac-12).
Castaneda can also clobber the softball after finishing second on the team last season with seven games of multiple runs driven in. She hit over .300 her first two seasons and has racked up more than 100 hits, 20 doubles and 65 runs batted in during her career.
Jordyn Gasper and Haley Denning are vying for the other starting outfield position. Denning was ranked the No. 52 player in the nation by FloSoftball.com in 2018 but missed last season.
Makayla Hurst is the most qualified member of this quintet after playing in 42 games as a freshman. The other options are all newcomers in freshmen Destiny Quiles and AJ Militello, and transfers Charlee Pond and Eli Espinosa.
Pond spent her freshman season at Ohio University, primarily playing in the infield. She started 41 games and hit .323. Espinosa spent last season at Texas.
Katie Faulk started every game at catcher last season and bashed five home runs. Another option behind the plate is Makenna Calderon. Newcomer Julia Scardina was ranked as the No. 84 recruit in the nation by Extra Inning Softball.
Outfielder Julia Noskin was named to the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team. Noskin hit .310 and led the team in runs (31), walks (15) and on-base percentage (.395). The Calabasas, Calif., native moved into the leadoff spot for the final 27 games of the season and hit .473.
A pair of juniors who have played prominent roles also return. Outfielder Alyssa Barrera had the team's second-best batting average (.322) and on-base percentage (.392), and ranked third in runs scored (27) last season. Utility player BreOnna Castaneda ranked third in batting average (.314) and top three in both doubles (8) and home runs (4).
To other players with significant starting experience return in senior outfielder Ally Dickman and sophomore shortstop Abby Robertson.
In the summer of 2018, Hannah Flippen led the USA Blue team to a third-place finish at the International Cup. Anissa Urtez was the top hitter for the Mexican National Team in that same tournament. Flippen earned a spot on the U.S. National Team for the Japan Cup in early November.
Four Utes traveled the globe and represented their countries in International play in the summer of 2017.
Hannah Flippen played for Team USA in the World Cup of Softball in Oklahoma City, the Pan Am/World Qualifier in the Dominican Republic, and the Japan Cup. Anissa Urtez and Alyssa Barrera were also in Oklahoma City for the World Cup as starters on the Mexican National Team. Aubrey Peterson was a starter for Great Britain at the 2017 Women's Softball European Championship.
Amy Hogue enters her 21st season with the Utah softball program as a head coach, assistant coach and player. She led the Utes to three-straight NCAA Tournament berths beginning in 2015, including back-to-back Super Regionals for the first time in program history in 2016 and 2017.
In 12 seasons as the Utes' head coach, Hogue has a 335-310-1 record and sports a 533-395-1 overall mark in 18 years as a collegiate head coach, which includes six seasons at the NJCAA level's Salt Lake Community College.
Hogue got her start in coaching as Utah's graduate assistant coach from 1994-95. As a player from 1991-94, she helped the Utes win two conference titles and make two College World Series appearances. She captained the 1994 squad that tallied a school-record 51 wins, earning Western Athletic Conference Player of the Year, first team all-region and second team All-America honors along the way. She was a three-time All-WAC honoree.
Among Utah's career leaders, Hogue still ranks third in at bats (703) and stolen bases (72), fourth in hits (239), and fifth in hitting (.340) and runs (125).
Hogue graduated from Utah in 1994 with a sociology degree and earned a Master's in social work in 1996. The Sandy, Utah, native has three children, Brennan, Kai and Tessa.
Cody Thomson has spent 13 seasons as a full-time assistant with the Utes and has been part of the staff since 2005.
Thompson works with the pitching staff, including recent All-Pac-12 selections Miranda Viramontes and Katie Donovan. In 2016, Donovan was a Third Team NFCA All-Pacific Region selection and surpassed her career high for wins with 20, third-most of any Pac-12 pitcher. She amassed a 2.47 earned run average, ranking fifth in the Pac-12, and her 141 strikeouts were seventh-most. Viramontes recorded the seventh-best ERA in the Pac-12 (2.73) in 2016. She had a 14-4 record and a 1.51 ERA to rank fourth in 2017.
A former USA Softball Men's National Team pitcher, Thompson played for the national team from 2004-09. He was named Best Pitcher at the NAFA World Series in 2006. He was a four-time ASA All-American..
Thompson is married to the former Amanda Tuft and has four children: Mikaela, Chase, Cayden and Quinley.
Breanne Smith is back for her second stint as an assistant coach with the Utes, joining the program once again in 2020.
In addition to working with the Utes during the 2011 season, Smith coached at Riverton High School for 10 years and has been staying around the sport by giving catching lessons and working at numerous camps, including running Utah's for the past eight years. She also works at the Nations Traveling Camp led by Fastpitch Masters.
As a player, Smith was a standout starter and team captain for Utah State from 1998 through 2002, where she finished sixth on the school's career home run list. During her senior year, Smith was second in the Big West with a .730 slugging percentage. Smith piled up several academic accomplishments, including CoSIDA Academic District VII All-American recognition in 2002.
Smith attended Bingham High School where she was a first-team all-state and all-region selection. The Utah native is married to Justin Smith. The couple has five boys.
Russ Paskins is in his 12th season with the Utes as a volunteer assistant.
He was an assistant coach at Alta High School 2006-09 and enjoyed a 24-year playing career on the fastpitch circuit. His teams advanced to 12 Men's Majors Fastpitch Nationals. He was selected to the All-World Team at NAFA Masters twice and won three league batting titles.
Paskins and his wife Mindi have three daughters: Desirae, Samantha and Whitney.