Swinging into softball season

Emily Miller

Weber State University’s softball team has been dominating the Big Sky Conference. The Wildcats have won back-to-back titles but are still hungry for more success.

Coach Amicone
Coach Amicone, a former Weber State softball player, has won 189 games for the team in over six seasons as a coach for the team. Photo credit: Weber State Athletics

This year, Weber State will line up against some of the top teams in the NCAA, including UCLA and Texas A&M. Their first week even includes teams like Bradley and Kansas.

It’s typical for Weber State to struggle in the preseason. Since 2018, they have won 9 of 20 opening-week games. Of those wins, only one was a season opener.

These losses come against some of the team’s toughest opponents. For example, the University of Oregon beat the Wildcats twice during the Grand Canyon kickoff last year. This season, Weber State is hoping that they’ll be competitive with bigger programs.

Last season, the Wildcats lost 15 games by an average margin of 5.8 points. They averaged a 7-point margin over their 21 wins, and even beat their in-conference rivals, the Idaho State Bengals, by 19 points.

Although they won a conference title, the Wildcats came up short in the playoffs, going home without a postseason win. To ensure different results this year, Weber State has made extensive roster changes, adding players like pitcher Arissa Henderson and infielder Daisy Taloa.

Formerly at BYU, Henderson came to Weber State to study radiology. After graduation, she plans to go into sonography and specialize in hearts.

Typically, a player as tenured as Henderson wouldn’t be able to make a roster. However, after COVID-19 took away a year, the red-shirting fifth-year senior is back to pitch, this time in the purple and white.

“I was just looking at going to school,” Henderson said. “I had another year of eligibility, so I decided to look into the possibility of playing again.”

To better their chances, the Weber State University has made extensive roster changes for the upcoming season. (Weber State Athletics)
To better their chances, Weber State softball has made extensive roster changes for the upcoming season. Photo credit: Weber State Athletics

Henderson comes from a long line of dominant pitchers at BYU. She won the 2019 West Coast Conference pitcher of the year, marking the fifth time in a row that a BYU pitcher had won the honors.

That year, Henderson was able to lead the Cougars to seven wins, striking out 41 batters and holding her opponents to a 0.198 batting average. Her earned runs average of 1.51 was the best in the conference as she pitched two shutouts that season.

Success like this wasn’t anything new to Henderson. In 2014, she dominated at Payson High School, striking out 375 batters in just 170 innings pitched. That year, Henderson pitched 18 shutouts and six no-hitters, leading her to being named the Arizona Gatorade Softball Player of the Year.

Although her stats further prove her dominance, Henderson says the only numbers she really tracks are wins.

“As long as we win, that’s what matters the most,” Henderson said. “If I have a lot of strikeouts, but we still lose, it doesn’t really matter.”

Henderson isn’t the only one who left BYU for Weber State. This season, she’ll be reunited with Wildcat assistant coach Kevin Jensen, associate head coach Kristin Delahoussaye, volunteer assistant coach Lauren Bell, and graduate manager Emilee Erickson. Henderson believes the reason these coaches have moved over has to do with head coach Mary Kay Amicone.

“I think coach Amicone is an awesome coach,” Henderson said. “A lot of people like to coach with her or for her and then they’re still staying in the state of Utah.”

Amicone, who has won 189 games for the Wildcats over six seasons, is 75–35 in matchups with Weber State’s Big Sky opponents. Formerly a softball player for Weber State herself, Amicone has racked up over 700 wins in her collegiate career.

Henderson’s teammates are eager to have her join the team, noting that her pitching will be key to the team’s success this year.

“I just think it’s awesome that that’s how they look at me, being new on the team,” Henderson said. “Coming into this team, they have a lot of that success too in their conference, and so it’s a good drive to kind of keep that standard.”

The team gather together for a time out. (Weber State Athletics)
The team gather together for a time out. Photo credit: Weber State Athletics

Taloa, a sophomore from Rose Park, Utah, found her way back home after the pandemic stopped her from being able to visit family during her freshman year at Grand Canyon University.

The infielder had Weber State and its softball program at the top of their list when looking at her transfer options, and the leading factor in what appealed to Taloa about Weber State was its familiarity. Growing up just under an hour’s drive away from Ogden, Taloa had been attending Amicone’s softball camps since middle school.

“It’s close to home but not too close,” said Taloa. “I was familiar with her program and how successful they are.”

While at West High School, Taloa was a four-year varsity starter, collected two region and state championships in 2017 and 2019, was an all-state honorable mention in 2018 and made the all-state first team in 2019. She collected 24 home runs and had a batting average of 0.480.

During her time as an Antelope for GCU, Taloa started in 22 games but appeared in 32 games, totaled 13 hits including four doubles, eight RBI’s and scored seven runs for an average of 0.183.

In her 2021 season, Taloa and GCU split a series 1–1 against Weber State in the GCU Kickoff Classic. The Wildcats first fell to Lopes 8–2 on Feb. 12 and then won 6–2 on Feb. 14.

Still sporting the purple and white, Taloa looks forward to kicking off the season where she once called home.

The softball team line up across the field and await for the game to begin. (Weber State Athletics)
The softball team lines up across the field and waits for the game to begin. Photo credit: Weber State Athletics

Looking down the stretch into conference play, Taloa prepares for Big Sky opponents and is learning what teams the program most looks forward to playing each year.

“Definitely Sacramento State,” said Taloa. “My coach is always talking about how excited she is to play them. I look forward to see what they’re about.”

Since 2015, the Wildcats have won four regular season championships and three postseason champions and look to further capitalize on their success in 2022.

The Big Sky Conference released the preseason coaches’ poll on Jan. 31, and for the third consecutive year, the Wildcats were selected atop the conference.

Coaches amongst the Big Sky aren’t able to vote for their own program, and of the five other programs, Weber State received four votes, tallying 34 total points.

Returning key players of the Wildcats’ 2021 roster include seven all-conference first team players. Fans will see Lauren Hoe, who was dubbed as the Big Sky Player of the Year, Mariah Ramirez, who was selected as the Pitcher of the Year and Mia Rushton, who was the Freshman of the Year.

Middle infielder Faith Hoe, infielder Chloe Camarero, pitcher Amanda Sink and outfielder Noelle Foster were all selected to the All-Big Sky First team last season and will be returning to the roster.

“I’m just excited for this season,” Henderson said. “I think it’s going to be a really good one.”

Weber State will open the season with a double header in Phoenix, Arizona, squaring off first against Bradley University and next against the University of Kansas. These matchups, part of the Grand Canyon Tournament, will start at 8 a.m.

The Wildcats will be opening up their season at home in March of 2022 after traveling for multiple tournaments. (Weber State Athletics)
The Wildcats will be opening up their season at home in March after traveling for multiple tournaments. Photo credit: Weber State Athletics