Cougars look to build off a third-place finish in PacWest from last season and continue their success after losing some of their best players
After graduating four excellent seniors, head coach Carrie Webber and her team face the challenge of rebuilding.
“We lost four very key players, but we also brought in four key players as well to carry on the tradition and replace the ones that we lost. Every team loses players, that’s always a constant. People will come and people will go. So, I’m not too worried about who we lost, I’m just making sure that the people that we do have here are confident in what we’re doing, understand what we’re doing, and go out and execute with excellence the things that we want to do, and I feel confident that we can do that with the girls that we’ve brought in this year,” Webber said.
The players that the Cougars lost were high-usage players. Carly Xepoleas pitched in 23 games last season, followed closely by fellow senior Ariana von Zboray, who appeared in 18 and was used elsewhere on the field as well. Infielder Nicki Sprague and outfielder Abry Moreno both appeared in all 50 games for the Cougars last season, and each hit five home runs, tied for second most on the team.
While those four seniors accounted for much of what Azusa Pacific was able to do last season, the Cougars’ return many players who also had an impact. Another set of four seniors, Kayla Jimenez, Annaliese Davis, Illiana Jimenez and Erin Jaramillo are ready to take the reins.
“Don’t underestimate us. I think that we’ve kind of been underestimated these past few years coming into Division II from NAIA, and I think we’ve really proven ourselves. We’ve been the underdogs, but we work hard and I think it shows,” senior first baseman Kayla Jimenez said.
All four of these seniors played a major role, with three of them playing in all 50 games last season. Illiana Jimenez was second in the conference in stolen bases and hits, with 37 and 66 respectively. Kayla Jimenez and sophomore Cayla Broussard tied for seventh in the conference with 56 hits. From the circle, sophomore pitcher Kat Ung posted a 1.38 ERA, good for second in the conference.
With the changes on the APU roster, come changes to the PacWest itself as BYU-Hawai’i was replaced by longtime school rival, Biola University. Coach Webber was excited to add another rivalry game into the mix.
“There are probably three teams I look forward to playing because they are always good competition. Obviously, one is California Baptist, another one is Concordia Irvine, and the third would be Biola because of our long history with them,” Webber said. “I think every time you play those teams, there is a sense of excitement and urgency and you tend to step up your game whether you know it or not, to make sure you come out victorious on the other end. I always look forward to those games whether they’re home or away.”
The players are excited about the rivalry as well.
“Playing Biola is going to be fun. The fact that they’re in our conference is going to drive us to compete even harder and work harder. We’re excited,” Ung said.
Azusa Pacific will start their season at the Desert Stinger Tournament in Las Vegas, Nev. on Feb. 2 against Stanislaus State and Cal State San Bernardino, before playing Montana State Billings, Chico State and UC San Diego on Feb. 3. The Cougars will not play a home game until they begin PacWest play on Feb. 24 against defending conference champions, California Baptist.