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It doesn't matter where it competes, Gordon Eakin's softball program at BYU is all about winning conference championships — no matter the conference.

The Cougars, who begin play Thursday afternoon at the Red Desert Classic tournament in St. George, have won two consecutive titles in two different leagues and is favored to win their third different conference championship in 2013 as part of the Pacific Coast Softball Conference.

Odds are BYU will also be favored to win the West Coast Conference when the program finally settles there for good in 2014, a tour of four conferences in four seasons.

"We're excited to play in a new conference with new venues and places we've never played before," Eakin said. "We're eager to see how this young team responds to another new challenge for the third-straight season in another new league."

With BYU's decision to leave the Mountain West Conference for football independence in 2011, the school's other sports became part of the WCC. (Track, swimming and men's volleyball compete in the Mountain Pacific Sports Federation.)

One drawback: softball wasn't part of the WCC. The five league schools that did compete in softball were part of the PCSC, which left Eakin's team without a conference in 2012. The Cougars gratefully accepted temporary softball WAC membership for that season only.

Meanwhile, with the additions of BYU and, in 2014, Pacific and Utah Valley, the WCC will finally have enough schools to create their own softball conference with an automatic NCAA Tournament bid. Utah Valley will be an associate member of the WCC in softball only.

BYU has won 40 games or more for seven consecutive seasons and came within a game on advancing to the Super Regionals last season. The Cougars enter 2013 with quality pitching — senior Hannah Howell and junior Tori Almond combined for a 40-12 record last season — and questions about depth. The Cougars must replace all three outfield positions, including First Team All-American Delaney Willard and her 88 RBIs.

"Our expectations are always to be a competitive team," Eakin said. "Our goal is to win a conference championship and make it to the NCAA tournament. We will work to get better every day and in turn let those big things take care of themselves."

Eakins will rely on senior J.C. Clayton, who is part of the Top 50 Watch List for the 2013 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year. In 2012, Clayton was named to the Easton All-America Second Team. The BYU second baseman has a career batting average of .403.

Softball season begins Thursday

Snow may blanket northern Utah, but the weather in St. George this weekend is expected to be warm and softball friendly as Utah's six Division I schools head south to compete in the 15-team, four-day Red Desert Classic at the Canyons Complex.

Tennessee, Arkansas, Oklahoma State and Colorado State highlight a competitive field. BYU (45-15 in 2012) and the Rams will throw the first pitch Thursday at 1:30 p.m. Southern Utah (29-25) and Tennessee follow at 4 p.m.

The Utes (28-28) open their season Friday at 1:30 p.m. against South Dakota, while Utah State (17-36) plays Tennessee at 1:30 p.m. UVU (33-26) and South Dakota meet Friday at 11 a.m. Weber State (21-32) begins play Friday at 1:30 p.m. against Oklahoma State.

Kovar sparkles for Southern Utah

So far, Kayla Kovar has put together quite an indoor track season. During the past weekend, the Southern Utah junior finished second in the shot put and weight throw at the Northern Arizona Mountain T's Invitational and earned her third Big Sky Conference Field Athlete of the Week.

Kovar's shot put distance of 52 feet, 4 inches ranks 28th nationally. She holds school records in both events.


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