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Creighton opens the 2014 season at the Kajikawa Classic hosted by No. 7 Arizona State this weekend.
Courtesy: Jason Wise Photography

Softball Opens 2014 Season at Kajikawa Classic

This Week: Creighton opens the softball season this weekend at the Kajikawa Classic hosted by No. 7 Arizona State. The Bluejays open up the Classic schedule on Thursday with a doubleheader beginning with a game against San Jose State at 3:30 p.m. CT followed by a contest against the host Sun Devils at 6 p.m.

On Friday, CU faces a pair of Bronco teams in Western Michigan and Boise State for a twin bill beginning 11 a.m. The Jays conclude the weekend with a Saturday morning tilt against No. 24 California.

Following the Jays: Live stats links should be available for the tourney this weekend and can be found on the softball schedule page of GoCreighton.com. Fans can also keep in touch with Creighton softball on Twitter - @BluejaySoftball and Facebook - www.facebook.com/CreightonSoftball.

Last Season: The Bluejays return 14 players from last season's team that compiled a 29-18 overall record and finished first in the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) at 15-7 to claim the program’s seventh MVC regular season title. Despite earning a No. 1 seed, Creighton fell 1-0 to UNI in the MVC tournament semifinals after a game-opening leadoff home run that proved to be the difference.

Departed 2013 senior Amy Baker’s record-setting year and Becca Changstrom’s strong showing in the circle led the Jays. Baker ended her prolific four-year Bluejay career as the Creighton and MVC career leader in home runs (58) as well as RBI (167). She started every game over her final three seasons, playing primarily at catcher and first base. Baker reached base in 37 consecutive games in 2013, the most by any Jay since 1999.

Changstrom attained MVC Pitcher of the Year honors after claiming the pitching triple crown with 13 wins, 133 strikeouts and a 1.34 ERA in conference play. She also claimed All-MVC First Team, MVC All-Tournament Team and NFCA All-Midwest Region Second Team honors after posting a 22-9 overall record, a career-high 254 strikeouts and 1.70 ERA on the year. Liz Dike, Blair Lowe and Ellen Homan each earned All-MVC selections for the Jays in 2013.

Creighton won 2013 MVC Coaching Staff of the Year accolades for head coach Brent Vigness and his assistants Abby Johnson and Renae Sinkler.

Scouting Creighton (0-0): The Creighton softball team was picked to finish second in its inaugural season in the BIG EAST Conference in 2014, the league office announced Wednesday.

In addition to the 14 returning letterwinners, the Jays also welcome seven newcomers to the team in 2014.

Pitching should be a strength for the Jays this season with three senior hurlers and added depth. Senior Becca Changstrom enters the season ranked third all-time at Creighton with 606 strikeouts. A year after claiming the pitching triple crown in Valley play, Changstrom will look to continue to lead the Jays’ contingent in the circle.

Fellow senior Alexis Cantu should also see time in the circle after posting a 6-8 record for Creighton last season. Senior Brittany Telecky and two newcomers in junior transfer Mac Millspaugh and freshman Kassidy Kingsley will add depth to the staff this season.

At the plate junior Liz Dike leads the lineup after hitting .348 a year ago en route to All-MVC Second Team laurels. Senior Blair Lowe is the only other returning Jay to hit over .300 a year ago. She earned 2013 All-MVC First Team honors after hitting .308 for the Jays. Senior Ellen Homan batted .291 last season and earned MVC All-Tournament team honors last season. After blasting eight home runs in 2013, sophomore Blake Ringle is one of the leading power hitters in the lineup this year.

Head Coach:  The winningest coach in Creighton athletics history, Brent Vigness enters his 21st season at the helm of one of the most successful softball programs in the Midwest. He carries a 635-446-3 record after 20 seasons at Creighton and boasts a 783-517-4 overall record with five years at Assumption College prior to beginning at CU.

After 20 seasons in the Missouri Valley Conference, Vigness leads Creighton into its inaugural BIG EAST campaign this year. A four-time MVC Coach of the Year, he has led the Bluejays to seven MVC regular-season titles (1998-2000, 2007-09, 2013), six Valley tournament titles (1999, 2003-05, 2007, 2010) and seven NCAA regional appearances (1999, 2003-05, 2007-08, 2010). He claimed MVC Coach of the Year honors in 1998 and guided the MVC Coaching Staffs of the Year in 2013, 2008 and 2007.

Creighton History at Kajikawa Classic: The Bluejays have participated in the Kajikawa, pronounced “KAH-gee-cow-uh”, Classic two previous times in 2010 and 2013. The Bluejays are 5-6 all-time at the Kajikawa Classic.

Creighton completed the 2013 Kajikawa Classic with a 2-3 ledger. CU won its season opener against New Mexico 5-1 before falling 5-2 to San Diego State. The Jays dropped a 13-3 contest in five innings to No. 14 Florida on day two but bounced back to defeat Pac-12 foe Oregon State 5-3 – a team it defeated by the same score three years before. CU ended the tourney with a disappointing 4-3 setback to Stephen F. Austin on the Jays’ final day in Tempe.

The Jays opened the 2010 season with a 3-3 ledger at the season-opening tournament. Creighton opened 2010 with three losses before rebounding with a trio of victories including the Bluejays’ last victory over a ranked team. CU edged No. 15 Northwestern 2-1 on Valentine’s Day 2010 to even its record.

The Jays played two of its 2013 opponents in the 2010 tourney, resulting in a 1-1 record. Creighton fell to San Diego State 5-3 in the opener three years ago before defeating Oregon State 5-3 two days later – its only victory against the Pac-12 school in program history.

Scouting Thursday’s Opponents:

San Jose State (0-0): The Spartans will start their 2014 season at the same place they ended their 2013 campaign. San Jose State fell 5-2 to both Arizona State and San Diego State in the NCAA Tempe Regional last season at Farrington Stadium.

The Creighton – San Jose State matchup is the opener for both squads and also kicks off the 2014 Kajikawa Classic.

SJSU finished last season with a 42-15 record overall and 17-4 ledger in the Western Athletic Conference (WAC). The 42 wins set a new program record for the Spartans. San Jose State advanced to the NCAA Tournament last year after winning the WAC Tournament. It marked the Spartans’ first NCAA appearance in over 20 years, since 1992. This season the Spartans are a member of the Mountain West Conference.

San Jose State returns eight letterwinners and five starters this season. The Spartans are a young squad with just two seniors and 10 newcomers.

First Team All-WAC selection Michelle Cox leads the Spartan lineup. The junior set a single-game record for SJSU with four stolen bases a year ago and was named WAC Player of the Week. Cox led the team with a .363 batting average last season. She led the squad with 20 stolen bases and did not commit an error in 58 appearances for a perfect fielding percentage.

Senior Devin Caldwell earned All-WAC Second team honors for SJSU last season. She hit .288 at the dish and was second on the team with 71 assists in 2013.

Creighton is 1-0 all-time against San Jose State. The Bluejays blanked SJSU 8-0 at the Wilson/DeMarini Invitational in Tempe on Feb. 29, 2008.

No. 7 Arizona State (0-0): The host Sun Devils enter the season ranked No. 7 in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA poll) after advancing to the 2013 Women’s College World Series last season, finishing seventh nationally.

ASU posted a 50-12 record last season including a 40-4 mark at home. The Sun Devils recorded a 16-8 ledger in the Pac-12 to finish in a tie for second place. The season marked the end of the Clint Myers era in Tempe, who left to take over Auburn in the offseason.

The Creighton – ASU matchup will be the first for new Sun Devil coach Craig Nicholson in Tempe. Nicholson takes over the program after seven seasons at Ball State. Ironically, the Bluejays defeated Nicholson’s BSU squad 7-1 at the Central Arkansas Tournament a year ago.

Arizona State returns 18 letterwinners from a year including virtually all of their position starters and pitchers led by National Player of the Year candidate, senior Dallas Escobedo.

The Sun Devils enter the season with four returning NFCA All-Americans on the roster, the most of any team in the country. Returning All-American selections Escobedo, Cheyenne Coyle and Amber Freeman have all been named to the USA Softball Preseason Player of the Year Watch List for the upcoming season.

In the circle, Escobedo finished last season with a 30-6 record and 2.32 ERA. She is the No. 1 in the circle in a powerful 1-2 pitching lineup. The other half of that duo is Mackenzie Popescue who recorded a 19-6 record and 1.94 ERA as an All-Pac-12 Selection. 

At the plate ASU catcher Amber Freeman hit .361 with 18 homers a year ago en route to becoming the 2013 Pac-12 Player of the Year. Her 61 RBI and 66 hits helped nab 2013 All-American recognition. Senior shortstop Cheyenne Coyle hit .358 with 20 home runs and 66 RBI a season ago. As a result, she tied the single-season ASU home run mark en route to a 2013 All-American selection.

Creighton is 2-13 all-time against Arizona State. The Jays’ last victory over ASU occurred in 1998 when Creighton edged the Sun Devils 4-3 in eight innings at the National Invitation Tournament in San Jose, Calif.

The Bluejays’ first win over the Sun Devils came under the direction of former CU head coach Mary Higgins on March 17, 1989, also at the National Invitation Tournament. The Jays claimed a 3-1 victory over the Sun Devils.

More recently, the Jays pushed the Sun Devils to extra innings in 2012 before falling 3-1 in Tempe.

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