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New era begins for softball

If you are going to replace a Hall of Fame coach, you might as well you do it with a Hall of Fame player.

That was what Athletic Director Vic Cegles did this past summer when former head coach Pete Manarino announced his retirement. Manarino was the coach for 23 years, amassing an overall record of 843-508-2 (.624), which included five Big West titles and five conference coach of the year honors.

The 49ers only had to look as far as the bench when conducting a national coaching search for the best candidate and longtime assistant coach Kim Sowder was named the new head coach.

“I plan on doing a lot of the things the same,” Sowder said.

“I played here in this program and I coached here for 11 years, so I have pretty much have the same philosophy as coach Manarino.”

Last season, the 49ers finished the season with an overall record of 31-22 and 13-5 in the Big West Conference. The 49ers return 12 players off of last year’s squad and look for that depth to help the 49ers deal with a tough non-conference schedule as they build momentum for the Big West Conference.

This season, the 49ers will have to rely more on overall team chemistry and not just the arm of a top starting pitcher.

For four straight seasons (and five out of the last seven years) the Pitcher of the Year in the Big West Conference has come from the 49ers, but with the loss of last year’s Big West Pitcher of the Year, Michelle Turner, to academic ineligibility, the 49ers are looking for others to step up and fill the gap.

“It’s very unfortunate that for her senior season we won’t be able to see her throw her last year,” Sowder said. “But she wasn’t with team all fall so it’s something our team has moved on from.”

The 49ers are going to depend heavily on the depth and experience of juniors Jessica Beaver, Lacy Tyler and Jonae Perez.

“We have a very strong junior class with a lot of experience,” Sowder said. “They have all been good at leading this team throughout the fall, so we expect big things from them this year.”

“I am very excited about this year because we are going to have to work together more as a team, instead of just relying on the pitchers to carry us this year,” Beaver said.

Beaver was second on the team last year in home runs and RBI’s and looks to lead this year team both offensively and defensively. The 49ers will also look for big their team captain’s, senior outfielders Panita Thanatharan and Kourtnee Gervasi.

Sowder also expects big things from pitcher Bridgette Pagano, a freshman from Temecula, Calif., who will be asked to shoulder a big portion of the pitching duties.

“Pagano will see a lot of pitching time right away,” Sowder said. “This will give her a lot of experience, which helps us later on in the season.”

This weekend, the 49ers open up the season with a trip to Arizona for the 2007 Kajikawa Classic. LBSU stamina will be tested early as it plays five grueling games in three days.

On Friday, the 49ers will play a double-header against Oregon at 3:30 p.m., followed immediately by a game against Wisconsin. On Saturday, the 49ers will play Syracuse at 1:00 p.m. and then end the day against the perennial power Texas.

The preseason classic ends Sunday when the 49ers finish up the tournament with a game against another powerhouse, tournament host Arizona State.

“I’m really excited about this year and look forward to what the season has to offer,” Sowder said.

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