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TEMPE, Ariz. - Head coach Amanda Lehotak and the Penn State softball team are set to open the 2014 campaign this weekend at the Kajikawa Classic hosted by Arizona State. The Nittany Lions will face five different opponents in a three-day span, including Oregon State, Appalachian State, Bradley, No. 7 Arizona State and Seattle.
The Blue and White kick off the season with a 2 p.m. (ET) contest against the Oregon State Beavers.
Fri. 2 p.m. vs. Oregon State
Fri. 7:30 p.m. vs. Appalachian State
Sat. 4 p.m. vs. Bradley
Sat. 6:30 p.m. at Arizona State
Sun. 11 a.m. vs. Seattle
Following the Kajikawa Classic, the Nittany Lions will travel to Baton Rouge, La. to compete in LSU's Tiger Invitational. PSU will take on Northwestern in a non-conference matchup to open the tournament before facing No. 17 LSU and George Washington twice each.
A NEW ERA
Newly appointed head coach Amanda Lehotakbegins her first season with the Blue and White on Friday. The Omaha, Nebraska native comes to Penn State after a successful two-year stint at Texas-San Antonio where she led the Roadrunners to their second winning season in seven years in 2013.
Prior to UTSA, Lehotak led the Jacksonville Dolphins to their first NCAA Tournament appearance in 2011, earning Atlantic Sun Conference Coach of the Year accolades. She left Jacksonville with a school-record 137 wins.
EYES ON THE PRIZE
The 2014 PSU squad looks to return to postseason action after missing out on the NCAA Tournament in 2012 and 2013. Seniors Alyssa Sovereign, Liz Presto and Kasie Hatfield will lead the charge while juniors Marissa Diescher, Alicia Walker and Meghan Bradleyalso add experience to the young team which features eight sophomores and five freshmen.
In the outfield, sophomore Lexi Knief has moved to the center field position while Walker, sophomores Taylor Abeyta and Shannon Good and freshman Mary Wardare battling for the right and left field starting positions.
New faces are abundant in the infield as well as Sovereign moves into the second base spot while freshman Kristina Brackpool takes over first base responsibilities. Sophomore Reina Furuya will return at shortstop and Presto and freshman Sam Shanahanare each looking strong for the third baseman spot.
Macy Jonesreturns as the top pitcher and hitter for the Blue and White. The sophomore spun 175.0 innings, turning a 3.84 ERA in her rookie season and finished with a 13-17 record. Jones hit at a .274 clip a season ago, driving in 28 runners on 40 hits.
The Nittany Lions welcome five freshmen for the 2014 season. Kristina Brackpool joins the Blue and White from Valencia, Calif., Shelby Miller hails from Sugar Land, Texas and Sam Shanahan has traveled to Happy Valley from Seattle, Wash. Marlaina Laubach and Mary Wardjoin the Lions are local additions from Northampton, Pa. and Greencastle, Pa., respectively.
SCOUTING THE BEAVERS
Oregon State received votes in the initial polls of 2014 after finishing the 2013 season with a 34-24 record and earning a trip to the NCAA Regionals. The Beavers will be looking to sophomore Natalie Hampton, who hit .329 in her freshman campaign, for a spark on the plate after losing top hitter Lea Cavestany, who hit at a .331 clip in her senior campaign.
Amanda Najdek is OSU's top-returner in the circle. The senior posted a 4.20 ERA in 13 appearances in 2013 and finished with a 2-1 record.
With one of the top recruiting classes in the nation, the Beavers will also be looking to their newcomers for an extra boost.
PREVIEWING THE MOUNTAINEERS
Appalachian State returns eight starters from last year's 31-22 squad that won the Southern Conference title. Junior Sarah Warnock, who hit .376 with 62 hits, returns as the top hitter for the Mountaineers. Senior Lindsay Loudermilk will also add offensive power for App. State after hitting .294 with 37 RBIs a season ago.
Alissa Shoelkopf will lead the Mountaineers in the circle. The junior compiled a 3.14 ERA in 40 appearances and finished with a 20-12 record.
BREAKING DOWN BRADLEY
The Braves return their top five hitters and their top pitcher from last season's 23-29 team. Senior Bailiegh Basham hit .381 in 2013 with a slugging percentage of .590 while senior Madeline Lynch-Crumrine turned in a 3.08 ERA in 39 appearances for Bradley a season ago.
A LOOK AT THE SUN DEVILS
Arizona State will be the toughest matchup for the Nittany Lions this weekend as they enter the 2014 campaign ranked No. 7 in the nation in both the USA Today/NFCA and ESPN.com/Softball USA polls. The Sun Devils return eight of their nine top hitters from the 2013 team that made a run to the College World Series.
Junior Amber Freeman and senior Cheyenne Coyle led ASU offensively last season, turning in hitting percentages of .361 and .358, respectively. The two combined for 127 RBIs and 38 homeruns on the season.
The Sun Devils also return their top two pitchers in seniors Mackenzie Popescue and Dallas Escobedo. Popescue compiled an ERA of 1.94 with a 19-6 record while Escobedo registered an ERA of 2.30 for a 30-6 record.
REDHAWKS AT A GLIMPSE
Seattle returns its top two hitters from 2013 in sophomore Isabella Geronimo and junior Bubba Morrow. Geronimo hit .323 with 26 RBIs while Morrow hit .284 with 29 RBIs. After losing top pitcher Richelle Ashburn, the Redhawks will be looking to junior Mandie Sugita to step up in the circle. Sugita registered a 3.77 ERA in 29 appearances for Seattle in her sophomore campaign.
Five of Penn State's 2014 opponents are listed in the Preseason USA Today/NFCA poll, including No. 5 Michigan. Other opponents include Arizona State (No. 7), Kentucky (No. 12), LSU (No. 17) and Baylor (No. 18) while Wisconsin and Oregon State are receiving votes. All seven of the programs are represented in the current ESPN.com/USA Softball rankings and Minnesota received votes.
BRING IT HOME
The Nittany Lions open the 2014 season with a 24-game road swing. The home opener will double as the Big Ten opener as PSU is set to host Purdue for its first game at Nittany Lion Softball Park and Beard Field in on Friday, March 21. The first pitch is set for 6 p.m.