UCCS softball looks to score first winning season in four years

     After three consecutive seasons with a losing record, the UCCS Mountain Lion softball team has their eye on a winning season for the first time since 2018. 

     UCCS is expected to see many unfamiliar faces, as nine new freshmen set to join the team with goals to propel them to a further spot on the RMAC standings. The Mountain Lions went 17-25 in 2021, good enough for ninth place of 13 teams, their lowest ranking in five seasons. 

     With this in mind, the Mountain Lions will be missing home run and hits leader Brianna Santos due to transfer, leaving some big shoes to fill from the remaining lineup of players. 

     Junior shortstop Solana Martinez, sophomore outfielder Mia Perez and sophomore infielder Morgan Hernandez-Belew headline the top players for the Mountain Lions to lead off the season. All three women appeared in every game last season, with Perez and Martinez starting all 42 games. 

     “I’m looking forward to the energy that this team brings to the field, and [absolutely] seeing how all of the work we’ve put in impact how out season goes,” said sophomore infielder Cambria Jeffers. 

#15 infielder Cambria Jeffers. Photo from GoMountainLions.com.

     Jeffers is expected to rise as one of the Mountain Lions’ premier power hitters, with two home runs in five hits last season. An elevated role should inflate those numbers with the playing time increase she will receive as a result of last season’s departures. 

     “My expectations for myself this season are to push my team to always give 110% and never get down on themselves,” Jeffers said. 

     Other notable players that are set to see an increase in production are junior infielders Payton Reisman and Sawyer Brewster, with Brewster recording the second-most team RBIs with 30, and Reisman drawing twelve walks, the third-most on the Mountain Lions. 

     UCCS’ batting numbers the previous season were headlined by above average play at the plate, sitting in the top half of the RMAC in hits, RBIs, home runs and overall slugging percentage. 

     The Mountain Lions are backed by head coach Ricki Rothbauer-Stubbs, who enters her seventh season coaching UCCS softball and has produced 13 RMAC Honor Roll students. 

     In 2015, when she first arrived as the team’s head coach, she “challenged the team to improve in all they do as student-athletes,” according to her personal bio on gomountainlions.com. 

     “We’ve been working extremely hard in the weight room and our mental toughness on and off the field,” Jeffers said. 

     This type of mental strategy has successfully aided the Mountain Lions in the field, as they were just two assists away from leading the league, with 339 assists to Colorado Mesa’s 341. 

     The Mountain Lions’ pitching staff hopes to turn things around in 2022, looking to improve upon their 5.53 earned run average, combined with 0 total saves, putting them in dead last in the league in this stat. 

     UCCS only used four pitchers in 2022 and have retained three: juniors Lexi Rayburn, Gabrielle Cronin and Braelyne Crenshaw. The addition of first-year pitcher Mackenzie Rutkoff might have a strong impact on how the Mountain Lions perform on the mound. 

     “I expect this season to be great, and I think we will make it to the RMAC tournament and work together to get there together,” Jeffers said.  

     If Jeffers is correct, the Mountain Lions will make the RMAC tournament for the first time in three seasons, with their last appearance in 2019 ending in a 7-5 loss to the Colorado School of Mines. 

     UCCS will lead off their season on Feb. 4, with a two-game doubleheader against Humboldt State University. Following this series, the Mountain Lions will launch into their first appearance in the LCU Softball Classic, a four-team invitational tournament beginning on Feb. 12 in Lubbock, Texas.