After an unbelievable runner-up finish at the NJCAA Nationals last year, the Salt Lake Community College softball team looks to get back to St. George for another chance to be crowned national champions.
2017 was SLCC’s most successful season under head coach Cyndee Bennett. Four Bruins were named First-Team All-Americans last season. Among them, then-sophomores Alex Valencia, Madison Sisco and Addie Jenson all transferred to Utah Valley University to continue playing softball.
In their 2018 preseason poll, the NJCAA ranked the Bruins at No. 2 in the nation, behind back-to-back national champion Butler Community College. SLCC (8-7, 2-2 Scenic West Athletic Conference) is now No. 13 in the latest poll after splitting their four-game series against SWAC rival College of Southern Idaho last weekend.
Lauren Tycksen is back as a key player for SLCC after making All-American as a freshman. Also returning from last year is three-hole hitter, Ashlee Snyder. After an impressive 2017 season that resulted in a .507 batting average, 18 home runs and 68 runs-batted-in, Snyder was named an NJCAA Preseason All-American by Fastpitch News.
Tara Bendt enters her fifth season as Bennett’s lead assistant coach. Bendt was an NJCAA First-Team All-American and SWAC Player of the Year as an outfielder at SLCC in 2008, when Bennett was the Bruins’ pitching coach.
Bendt looks for freshman outfielder Paige Reynolds to make an immediate impact.
“[Reynolds] has been batting in our two-hole. She’s got a lot of speed and puts a lot of pressure on the defense. She’s fun to watch. I’m excited to see how well she does,” Bendt says.
Freshman pitcher Summer Stensgard is finding her place in the batting order.
“[Stensgard is] a pitcher, as well as a pretty big power-hitter for us. She’s been hitting in our clean-up spot. We’re mixing people around still, but it seems like she’s taken over that spot for us,” Bendt says.
Bendt calls Kiara Grover a “spitfire” and is excited to see how she progresses.
“Grover is a freshman pitcher, she’s a lefty. She’s little, so based on her size you wouldn’t expect her to pack the punch that she does, but she’s continuing to just improve for us,” Bendt says.
As far as expectations and goals for this year’s team, Bendt says getting back to the championship game is at the top of the list.
“The goal is absolutely to make it to Nationals,” she says. “It’s very tough to get out of our conference, we have a great conference and good competition. We definitely have the talent. So, we’ll just have to see if we can bring it together to get [back to the championship game].”
Being a two-year school presents its challenges in terms of building team chemistry and trust, but Bendt says SLCC creates a family environment.
“We’re big on having a family environment … really respecting your teammates, being there for each other [and] picking each other up,” she says.
Bendt says team activities held in the fall are one way to strengthen those relationships.
“We do a lot of different team activities. We usually go camping in the fall. We go on team-trips in the fall where we usually stay at a player’s house. It’s like a big sleepover so that’s fun.
“We end our fall with what we call the ‘Bruin Challenge.’ It’s a lot of team activities. [Players] are split into groups and they’re working together in teams, whether it be a physical challenge or a mental team activity. It’s a lot of conditioning and lifting, as well as teamwork activities.”
SLCC continues conference play against Utah State University Eastern, with doubleheaders on March 9 and 10 in Price.
Visit the SLCC Athletics softball section for the complete 2018 schedule and roster.