Allan Saxe Field, the home of UT Arlington softball, underwent a major makeover during the off-season.
A new playing surface was added, the bullpens and dugouts were expanded, and more seating was installed to encourage higher attendance levels.
When the Mavericks debut Feb. 12-14 in the renovated stadium for the Maverick Invitational, coach Kristie Fox hopes her team can make a bigger impact than it did in last year’s disappointing last-place conference finish.
“The Sun Belt is a tough conference to be in,” she said. “We saw some glimmers of hope throughout the season, so we’ve worked really hard in the fall to take advantage and find consistency in those.”
A season that began with promise after a 10-6 start nosedived when the Mavericks discovered how tough the Sun Belt is in softball. UTA managed to win only one weekend in conference play and dropped its final seven regular-season games to finish 21-33 overall and 4-16 in conference.
Only Nina Villanueva and her .348 batting average was above .270 by the end of the season.
There’s renewed optimism, however, because UTA returns nine starters with a year of experience. Fox admitted that they won’t all start, which opens competition for every spot on the field.
But it’s what’s changing on the mound that has Fox eager to see how things improve. She’s taking a committee approach, adding pitchers to the roster in hopes of supplying depth to a staff that allowed a .299 batting average last season.
“We have more of a staff to piece together some games,” Fox said. “We’ll be able to put our pitchers in better situations this year and not leave them out there because we don’t have enough options, like we did last year.”
To develop young pitchers, Fox hired Camden Decker, a former catcher for the USA Men’s National Team, to be the pitching coach. She’s hoping his experience in the men’s fast-pitch game translates into a fresh message.
Fox scheduled a game against Arizona in the Arizona Tournament at the end of February. It’s notable considering her sister, Kellie, is following in Kristie’s footsteps as the starting shortstop for the Wildcats. Fox was an All-America shortstop at Arizona from 2004-07.
The level of play in the Sun Belt is a significant improvement over the Western Athletic Conference, but you don’t have to tell that to UTA.
The rough season was a wake-up call to Fox and her team that a change was needed. That’s why she’s focused on adding players with speed as depth to her program.
“We’ve brought in some speed in the outfield and up the middle that we’re excited to see,” she said.
With only two seniors on the roster, Fox may still be one season away from getting as complete of a team she’ll have since taking over in 2012.
For now, the Mavericks only have one direction to go from here.
Season opener: Friday vs. Alcorn State, Hammond, La.
Home opener: Feb. 12 vs. Incarnate Word, Allan Saxe Field
Sun Belt opener: March 13 at UL Lafayette
Sun Belt Tournament: May 6 in San Marcos
Allan Saxe Field renovations
The home of UTA softball underwent some changes this off-season:
▪ New playing surface
▪ New dugouts
▪ New bullpens
▪ Padded outfield fence
▪ Expanded seating to 700
▪ Grass berm seating in outfield
▪ Updated sound system
▪ New clubhouse