UCR Spring Sports Preview

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What has been a riveting season of UCR basketball is preparing to come to a close and UCR now looks to reign in a spring season that hopes to be more fulfilling than the last. We at the Highlander have you covered with a roundup of what to watch for from all the teams in action.

  • Baseball is back and ready to shine …
    • The hype around this program last year reached new levels upon the hiring of UCR alumnus and World Series-winning pitcher, Troy Percival, as head coach. Though, after an injury-riddled campaign in which the team went 15-40 with Percival at the helm, that hype has considerably died down. Perhaps, though, this can serve the team well, as they look to build on the growing pains from last season. When speaking with Percival, he pointed to seniors Thomas Walker and Drake Zarate as his key guys in the clubhouse, highlighting their familiarity with the program and natural leadership ability as crucial for team chemistry. As one would expect, Percival himself is not done growing, citing himself as “taking a step back and letting this older team get the job done,” in his second season at the helm. Thus far, the Highlanders are working the early season kinks out but have displayed a newfound passion and cohesion that should help tremendously once they enter conference play at the start of April.
  • Softball looking to prove last year was just the start …
    • After a 2015 season in which UC Riverside softball amassed their first winning conference record, finished second overall in the Big West and earned national recognition in the process, the Highlanders return in 2016 with significantly heightened expectations. Their top pitcher from last season, Chelsea Ponce, is no longer with the team but head coach Linda Garza stresses that the group’s current collection of youth will still allow this team to thrive. “The kids are doing great,” asserts Garza and this has been shown in the results. Thus far, UCR has amassed a 15-6 overall record, dominated two tourneys and have witnessed the development of pitcher Kaylynn Pierce who has dominated in each of her starts this season. Thus far, the team is on its way to improving upon last year’s unprecedented season.
  • Track and Field ready to make strides …
    • The departure of longtime track-and-field head coach Irv Ray last season marked a changing of the guard for the program. The man to take the torch is former assistant coach Nate Browne who, rather than looking to change the culture Ray developed over his tenure, hopes to “build on what we had (under Ray) and maintain what we have done this year.” According to Browne, one of the goals that falls under that realm is “solidify our field event,” and thus far they have managed to do so, led by redshirt senior thrower Vesta Bell, who was recently named the 2016 NCAA West Region Field Athlete of the Year. The team will also look to get more athletes in multiple events and hopes to end the year in the top three for both men and women, sending 15 or more athletes to the NCAA regionals and get a handful into Nationals. They got off to a good start this weekend, dominating their first outdoor event of the season at RCC.
  • Men’s tennis looks to change the narrative …
    • When we spoke with first-year UCR men’s tennis head coach, Mattias Johansson, earlier in the year, he expressed his goals to cultivate a positive a learning environment more importantly than accrue wins. Though, thus far, halfway into the season he has successfully managed to do both. After some growing pains early in the year when the team lost six of their first seven, the Highlanders now boast a modest 7-8 overall record and are on pace to achieve their highest win total in program history of 10. Johansson credits this to the team’s resilience to start the year, suggesting that “they responded very well (to the early losses) and when we got that first when they felt, ‘oh, maybe we can do this’.” Looking forward, Johansson wants to “keep the momentum going,” and reach his goal of 10 or 11 wins and thus far they are on pace to do so. Why the quick turnaround? Johansson credits it to “the way the guys approach the game and look for the resources they have available here. They practice harder, practice more and get into the mental part of the game much more and wanting to be better I think that’s key.” These are qualities which Johansson has asserted weren’t there in the prior year and he indeed has UCR men’s tennis as a team on the rise heading into the spring.
  • Women’s tennis is ready to grow this year …
    • UCR women’s tennis has had an up-and-down season thus far, failing to earn consecutive wins on the year en route to their current 3-9 mark. However, the team has managed to at least look improved beyond the poor record. Saturday’s game against Villanova was a prime example as, despite falling 3-4 to the Wildcats, the Highlanders showed incredible fortitude against a particularly formidable squad. These hard-fought matches should carry over well into April where the team will have their four-game slate of Big West opponents before heading to the conference championships by the month’s end.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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