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Virginia softball to kick off season in Tempe, Ariz.

Cavaliers look to establish comfort zone away from home

It was a long offseason, but at last the Virginia softball team will get back into action this weekend. The Cavaliers will travel to Tempe, Ariz. to play a total of five games in three days to kick off the 2016 season.

The Cavaliers will play five different opponents — Utah State, Boise State, Northwestern, East Carolina and San Jose State.

Virginia did not have a great season last year. In addition to going 16-40 overall and 4-20 in ACC play, they ended their season on a sour note, losing seven of their last eight games. However, the Cavaliers are looking to turn things around after a busy offseason — working hard to reinforce everything that they learned and improved on during the fall.

“The biggest thing that we’ve done in the last few weeks is getting our timing and honing in on being disciplined and doing what we do,” Coach Blake Miller said. “It’s just constant repetition, especially this time of year because everything we teach is in the fall and so we make everything second nature.”

Though Virginia did finish 10-10 at home last year, it was their play away from Charlottesville that needed improvement. They finished last season 2-16 on the road and 4-14 at neutral sites. However, Miller doesn’t think their losses on the road should be attributed to where they were playing, but rather the quality of their play.

“There wasn’t a difference of on the road and on home as much as far as improving,” Miller said.

Rather than the crowd, the dimensions of the field changed the way the game was played.

“We have a nice advantage at home in that our field is a good size, our field is a regular size,” Miller said. “It made it hard for them to keep the ball in the yard with the really small parks that we were playing at, where when we played at home, when you play on a 220 center field and 210 down the line it changes. The little pop ups off the handle don’t go out of the yard at our place where they go out of the yard at other places. We went and put up runs in the other places, it was just harder for us to keep the opponents down.”

In addition to the work being putting in, there is a lot of buzz surrounding this year’s squad, due to the unusually large class of incoming freshmen. With six freshmen, the team has been injected with an infusion of youth, and Miller knows this team will need them.

“They’ll be playing a huge role, all of them,” Miller said.

Though it’s not always unusual to see a freshman getting significant playing time, Miller sees not just one, but several freshmen playing big roles on this year’s team as the season progresses.

“There’s going to be probably by the end of the year, probably four of them will be starting on a regular basis,” Miller said. “Right now it’s kind of, you know, you got to earn spots, that’s how it goes — but big thing is they’re big impact players that will step up into really big roles.”

The Cavaliers will play Utah State at 4 p.m. and Boise State at 9:30 p.m. Friday. On Saturday, they will play Northwestern at 4 p.m. and East Carolina at 6:30 p.m. They will finish off the five-game stretch with an 11:30 a.m. matinee Sunday against San Jose State. The game against Boise State will take place in Farrington Stadium, while the rest of Virginia’s games will be played at the Tempe Sports Complex.

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