HATTIESBURG, Miss. - The University of Southern Mississippi softball team begins the 2014 season with a three-game series on the road against Arizona. The series between the Golden Eagles and the Wildcats begins on Friday, Feb. 7 at 7:00 p.m. CT (6:00 p.m. MT) at Rita Hillenbrand Memorial Stadium. The series continues with a single game on Saturday (3:00 p.m. CT) and concludes on Sunday (12:00 p.m. CT).
Southern Miss enters the weekend with a balanced mix of experience and newcomers. The team features 22 players, including 11 newcomers.
Seniors Taylor Beck and Mackenzie Sher lead the team into the 2014 season. The Golden Eagles also welcome Katie Cleary, Sarah Evans, Jenifer Gary, Morgan McKeever, Meaghen Nelson, Michelle Stringer, Kaitlin Wilson and Emily Wood back to the team. Shelbee Rodgers, who sat out the 2013 season due to NCAA transfer rules, returns and is available to play.
In addition to the veterans, Southern Miss welcomes 11 newcomers to the roster - Danielle Block, Bragan Burns, Pricilla Burns, Mikayla Davis, Selena Estrada, Peyton Garner, Rachel Johnson, Arielle Pollock, Samantha Robles and Tori Rouse. Transfer Paige Miller also joins the team, but will sit out the 2014 season because of NCAA transfer rules.
The Golden Eagles return five of the top six hitters on the team from last season, led by McKeever who was named to the Conference USA All-Freshman team in her rookie campaign. In addition to McKeever, Beck was also honored by the conference. The senior earned C-USA All-Tournament accolades for her efforts in the 2013 Conference USA Championships.
Southern Miss and Arizona have met on the softball diamond four times with the Wildcats holding a 3-1 advantage in the series. The Golden Eagles played in a tournament hosted by Arizona in 2000, dropping a pair of games. Later that season, Southern Miss posted a 1-0 victory over Arizona in the College World Series. The most recent meeting between the two teams came in 2002 in a tournament in Tucson.
The games in the Grand Canyon State will be a homecoming for five Southern Miss players. Beck (Mesa), Block (Phoenix), Garner (Gilbert), McKeever (Tucson) and Wilson (Sierra Vista) all call Arizona home. Additionally, coaches Jon Malgradi (2005), Kirsten Voak (2002) and Grady Moorhead (2009) each graduated from Arizona State.
Scouting the Opposition: Arizona was 33-26 last season, including a 20-7 mark at home. Arizona is receiving votes in both the preseason USA Today/NFCA Division I Top 25 Poll and the preseason ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25. This is the first time since the NFCA began publishing polls in the early 90s that Arizona has been unranked in the preseason poll.
Arizona is under the direction of head coach Mike Candrea who boasts a career record of 1,343-322-2 (.806). A winner of eight national championships (1991, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2006, 2007), Arizona has made 22 trips to the Women's College World Series.
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