Before we get into tonight's big rivalry game for the Aggies, we have some very interesting news on the softball front. Aggie head coach Kathy Rodolph was a guest on the Aggie Coaches Show last night (hosted by Kyle Doperalski) and during the interview she was asked by Kyle to give her thoughts on the WAC contraction/expansion. Obviously losing Boise State, a second year but up and coming program after this season is tough. It drops the league back down to seven teams, where it was when the Aggies joined in 2006. The big, huge, enormous loss for the league however is the loss of Fresno State, Nevada and Hawai'i in the 2013 season. The WAC is the best league in the west behind the Pac 10 and one of the best leagues in the country period. The WAC has routinely sent multiple teams to the NCAA Regionals and sent four teams in 2008, Fresno State, Nevada, Hawai'i and Louisiana Tech and while none of them reached the Super Regionals, all four teams played in their respective Regional championship game. WAC softball is perhaps the strongest sport that the WAC fields. Stronger than men's basketball, stronger than women's basketball, stronger than baseball (even though WAC baseball has the only national championship in the current WAC) and yes, even stronger than volleyball.
Fresno State has been to each and every NCAA tournament. If we're not mistaken, they are the only program in the country that can make that claim. Hawai'i went to the College World Series last season (knocking off the number one overall seed in the process). Nevada, Louisiana Tech and New Mexico State are all perennial contenders for reaching postseason play.
You get the picture. The defections from the WAC take a huge toll on the overall quality and competitiveness of the league, moreso than any other sport. Last season five different WAC teams combined for 10 non-conference wins over Top 25 teams, including a win by Utah State over No. 1 Washington (USU did not even qualify for the WAC tourney, that should tell you something) and 23 wins in the non-conference over BCS league teams (including five wins by the Aggies). Those 23 wins came via six of the eight WAC teams (further proof of the incredible competitiveness of WAC softball). The WAC softball hit list included wins over big time softball programs including Texas, Missouri, Alabama (twice), Stanford (twice), Cal, DePaul, Oklahoma and Washington. (Big-time thanks to the WAC Softball Blog for keeping us up to date on all those achievements)
Back to last night's coaches show. Though it has not officially been announced, Coach Rodolph mentioned that BYU will be joining the league starting in 2012, prior to the departures of Fresno State, Nevada and Hawai'i. She did not mention if this was a permanent arrangement, though we suspect it will likely only last until the West Coast Conference has enough softball programs to sponsor softball (there are currently only four WCC programs playing softball).
If you recall, when BYU went independent, three programs, swimming and diving, track and field and softball were left in limbo since the WCC does not sponsor those three. Swimming and diving has since landed in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation (MPSF) and softball has apparently landed in the WAC which is great news for WAC softball fans. BYU enters their final season in the Mountain West this spring and they are the defending MWC champions.
On a side note, two of the prospective schools that the WAC is looking at for expansion, Seattle and Utah Valley, both sponsor softball and both play in the Pacific Coast Softball Conference (home of the four WCC schools' softball teams).
Okay, about tonight's game. It's huge. Games against Nevada are always huge. This one is no different. The Pack has struggled a bit this season and is 5-13 overall but 2-3 in conference play with a win over Boise State at Boise (something the Aggies weren't able to do). That being said, the Aggies must also not look at Nevada's record and they must not look ahead to Saturday's game against Utah State. Focus on the Pack. They're much better than their record indicates. They have been in a lot of close games and have lost most of them. Ten of Nevada's games have been decided by 10 points or less, they've won just two of them. Had a few plays gone in Nevada's favor, they could have a vastly different record.
Nevada has some solid talent. They have a very solid, but freshman, point guard in Deonte Burton who has scored 43 points in his last two games. They have a Duke transfer in Olek Czyz who is currently the leading scorer in the WAC (conference games only). Czyz started off a little slowly averaging just eight points per game in his first four games. However, something clicked and he rattled off 23, 26 and 25 points respectively in his first three conference games. He's since cooled off a bit scoring 14 and 11 in his last two games but he is an effective and efficient scorer and he, much like Troy Gillenwater, can knock down the trifecta. Through five conference games he's shooting 11-of-21 from deep and overall is hitting 66.7 percent of his shots from the floor.
As we mentioned in our conference preview for Rush The Court way way way back before the season started, we picked Czyz as our Impact Newcomer.
Olek Czyz (F) - Nevada: Czyz, a native of Poland who graduated from high school in Reno, NV, is a 6’7 redshirt sophomore who left Duke to return to Reno, where he won two high school championships. Czyz will miss the first part of the semester fulfilling transfer requirements (he transferred from Duke midseason) but should have an immediate impact in conference play. Even though Czyz only played in six games for the Blue Devils in 2009-10, the WAC is not the ACC and Nevada is certainly not Duke in terms of history nor talent level. Czyz will likely work himself into a starting spot for the Wolf Pack this season.
The Aggie bench will be a big factor in this game. Nevada rides their big four of Czyz, Malik Story, Dario Hunt and Deonte Burton to the tune of nearly 30 minutes per game out of all four. Those four average over 12.6 PPG each and outside of them, nobody else is averaging more than 4.2 PPG.
The Aggies just need to continue to do what they've been doing the past three games and they should win this game.
Tip-off is scheduled for 8:30 p.m. (MT) and the game can be heard on the Aggie Sports Network with streaming audio available via Aggie Access (subscription required).
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