WASHINGTON - The George Washington softball team opens its 2014 campaign this weekend with five games in Southern California, including four at the Mizuno Invitational hosted by Long Beach State and one at Cal State Fullerton's Easton Tournament.
The Colonials will open their season against Kent State on Friday at 12 p.m. Eastern, followed by the host 49ers at 5 p.m. ET. The following day, GW will take on No. 12/14 Kentucky at 12 p.m. ET, then will again face Kent State at 2:30 p.m. ET before closing the weekend on Sunday at Cal State Fullerton at 2:30 p.m. ET.
Picked in a tie for second place in the Atlantic 10 preseason poll, the Colonials return 10 letterwinners from last season's squad, which produced a program-record 27 victories, including 13 in league play, and advanced to the Atlantic 10 Championship for the second year in a row.
GW, which welcomes eight freshmen in 2014, will be led offensively by junior shortstop Victoria Valos, the two-time team MVP who hit .363 with a school-record 11 home runs and 53 RBIs last season, as well as sophomore first baseman Carlee Gray, an A-10 All-Rookie Team selection who hit .310 with nine doubles and 28 RBIs. In addition, senior Courtney Martin returns in the circle after a breakout junior campaign in which she went 14-13 with a 2.10 ERA and 170 strikeouts en route to A-10 All-Conference First Team honors.
Kent State is the preseason favorite to win the Mid-American Conference East Division after posting a 27-21-1 overall record last season. The Golden Flashes return MAC Pitcher of the Year Emma Johnson, who led the conference in wins (20), ERA (1.70) and opponent batting average (.194).
Long Beach State, which is receiving votes in the NFCA preseason poll, was picked to finish second in the Big West. The 49ers, who split their first two games of the season on Thursday, defeating Santa Clara but falling to Kentucky, return seven field starters and all five pitchers from a 2013 squad which went 37-20. Among the returners is Big West Player of the Year Shayna Kimbrough, who batted .374 last season, and Freshman Player of the Year Darian Tautalafua, who belted 13 home runs.
Ranked 12th in the preseason NFCA poll and 14th by USA Softball, Kentucky won its first two games of the season on Thursday, defeating Santa Clara and Long Beach State by a combined 16-0, behind a no-hitter by Kelsey Nunley. The Wildcats won a school-record 41 games in 2013 en route to the NCAA Super Regional. Lauren Cumbess paced UK at the plate with a .323 average, 12 doubles, 13 home runs and 43 RBIs.
Cal State Fullerton went 28-28 last season and was picked to finish third in the Big West. The Titans return six field starters and three pitchers from that squad, including Freshman Pitcher of the Year Jasmine Antunez, who went 18-14 with a 2.58 ERA and 174 strikeouts as a rookie.
GW will be facing Long Beach State, Kentucky and Cal State Fullerton for the first time ever, and it will be just the second all-time matchup with Kent State and first since the 2008 Carolina Classic, which the Golden Flashes won, 1-0.