This year marks the third Triple Crown NAIA College Classic, slated for Feb. 9-11, 2018, and presented by the TCS California fastpitch franchise. It’s one of the true unique gems on the schedule, as more than 10 NAIA programs descend on the Big League Dreams complex in West Covina, CA, to show their stuff.
On Friday evening, the NAIA teams and any interested high-schoolers will be invited to the Biola University campus for a session of Church in the Dirt; the event features U.S. Olympian Jennie Finch and Team USA members Ali Aguilar, Aubree Munro, Michelle Moultrie and Nikki Udria. On Saturday evening and Sunday morning, these athletes will be on hand at BLD to interact with the NAIA and youth players on hand.
The level of play will be terrific, and it’s also a chance for youth players in the area who are eyeballing a college career to get as look at the NAIA brand up close. Here’s a capsule look at the teams coming to West Covina – click HERE for the schedule.
California University-Marymount (Palos Verdes, CA) – The Mariners went 18-25 last year and now welcome new coach Shane Schumaker. His hopes for a turnaround get a major boost from sophomore center fielder Nicole Barrow (.341, 42 starts, 9 SB), junior shortstop Princess Nava (.321) and pitcher Mary Gonzlaes, who won 10 games a year ago and hit .316 with 22 RBI.
Carroll College (Helena, MT) – The Saints had a 2017 record of 15-21; look for another year of solid production from Anna ApRoberts, a sophomore who hit .287 last year. Ashley Davis (.359) and Allison Bayer (.358) are also back in the fold.
Hope International (Fullerton, CA) – The Royals wrapped up 2017 with a 30-17 record, the best-ever win total for the program. Justice Walker returns after hitting .370 with 13 triples and 31 stolen bases in 2017; pitcher Tori Banks won 15 games last year and had a 2.52 ERA.
La Sierra University (Riverside, CA) – The Golden Eagles’ roster is going through some serious churn, with 20 players coming aboard in this June’s recruiting class. The team finished 22-24-1 last year but has some punch coming back in Genifer Garbellini (.416, 35 RBI) and Berlyn Benavides (.338, 29 stolen bases).
Menlo College (Atherton, CA) – The Oaks had a 31-18 record last season and have more than a few key contributors returning in sophomore pitcher Victoria Cervantes (14 wins, 1.91 ERA) and infielders Cassie Grana (started all 49 games, hitting .322) and Bryce Etzler (team-high .386 with 13 doubles).
Northwest Christian (Eugene, OR) – There’s nowhere to go but up for the Beacons, who are back in the fight after going 4-38 last season. Avery Daniels started every game as a freshman and was second on the team with 30 hits and led the team with 19 RBI.
Ottawa University (Phoenix, AZ) – The Spirit is a brand-new enterprise athletically; 21 sports sprang to life in August 2017. The softball team’s head coach is Lou Dobbins, who has 20 years of experience coaching in college.
San Diego Christian College (Santee, CA) – The Hawks will look for a bounce from new coach Sarah Hershman-McGrath; the team was 26-23 last season and welcomes back all-league junior outfielder Jordan Neal (.368, 8 HR last year).
Southern Oregon University (Ashland, OR) – The Raiders had a breakout season last year, going 46-15 and reaching the final six of the NAIA World Series. All-American shortstop Kelsey Randall is back for her senior campaign after hitting .431 last year (she added 10 triples and 29 stolen bases), as is catcher classmate Harlee Donovan (.367, 11 HR, 63 RBI). Three returning pitchers combined to win 40 game last season with a 1.73 ERA.
Vanguard University (based in Costa Mesa, CA) – The Lions went 46-15 last season, reaching the first round of the NAIA World Series. Coach Beth Renkoski is back for her 22nd season.
William Jessup University (Rocklin, CA) – The Warriors closed last year at 22-17, and pitcher Shelbi Graifman returns after ringing up 14 wins with a 2.12 ERA. There’s a nice buzz around the program, which reached the Golden State Athletic Conference championship game for the first time last spring.