Long Beach State softball is set to begin the 2022 season this week as they will open up at the Puerto Vallarta tournament in Mexico from Friday, Feb. 11 to Sunday, Feb. 13.
Last year, The Beach finished regular season play as Big West champions, riding a four-game win streak that featured three of those games as a battle for first play against Cal State Fullerton.
This will be the third time in school history Long Beach has competed in the Puerto Vallarta Challenge. Their first trip to the tournament was in 2018 when they finished 4-1.
Followed by the Puerto Vallarta tournament, The Beach will go on to play in four more tournaments as they get ready for conference play starting March 19th at UC Riverside.
“It’s just the best way for us to get a lot of games under our belt before we get into conference and get to play a lot of high-end competition,” LBSU softball head coach Kim Sowder said as she is trying to get the team to become back to back Big West champs for the second time in program history.
Sowder explained that she and the team are excited to play at Puerto Vallarta this week because of the opportunity to play against some really good competitions like Washington and Arkansas.
LBSU catcher Justine Briones is excited to play in consecutive tournaments to open the year because of the opportunity to play in high competition and also the chance to travel.
“It’s gonna be exciting, and it’s a lot of fun to travel, and then we go into Palm Springs, San Diego, Arizona,” Briones said.
The Beach will feature a roster that is made up mostly of returning players this year and seven freshmen.
“We put a lot, a lot of hard work in during the fall, and we’re still grinding today,” Briones said. “I’m just excited to see how much our hard work has paid off.”
Briones is entering her fifth season as a catcher for The Beach, and she is coming off her best season yet. Last year she hit .268 with 3 home runs, 19 RBI’s, and a slugging percentage of .536%.
Briones mentioned that this year in the offseason she and the team were able to put in a lot more work than they did last year because of the ongoing COVID 19 pandemic.
One of the things Sowder and The Beach focused on more in the offseason was weight training and conditioning for the team.
“The team just maxed out this week, which was exciting to see the strength gains,” Sowder said.
The Beach will also see a new addition to their roster as senior infielder Ashleigh Inae recently transferred to The Beach after previously playing for East Carolina University.
While playing at ECU, Inae had a career average of .290 and 153 hits. Briones said that Inae is one of the newer additions to the team that she is excited to see play this year.
While Inae is considered a good hitter in her collegiate career, her leadership is another aspect that has coach Sowder amazed.
“Just a lot of maturity, just brings a lot of leadership to the team, really good energy, smart player, team player, really understands the game,” Sowder said. “She’s been contagious and a great way as far as the leader for us.”
Both Briones and Sowder are excited about the incoming freshman this year as they both believe all the hard work they put in the fall is starting to show for itself. Sowder is excited to see newcomers Marissa Caballero and Jacquelyn Bickar play up the middle at shortstop and second base.
“Our freshmen are really exciting,” Sowder said. “I’m super excited for players that are going to get opportunities for the first time or are just starting their college career. They’re prepping hard right now and getting ready for these opportunities.”