Fresno State head softball coach Linda Garza speaks to the team before practice on Friday, Jan. 27, 2016 at Margie Wright Diamond. (Christian Ortuno/The Collegian)

Champion Diamond ‘Dogs open season ranked No. 24 in nation

It’s been seven years since the Fresno State softball team last appeared in the preseason Top 25 of the USA Today/NFCA Division I Preseason Coaches’ Poll.

That changed on Tuesday morning for the Bulldogs — they open the 2017 season ranked No. 24 in the nation.

The team spent 14 weeks in the Top 25 last season and finished No. 22 overall.

With 59 points and four first place votes in the Mountain West coaches preseason poll, the Diamond ‘Dogs return as the conference favorites for the third season in a row.

“At this point in the year we are focused on preseason and the process of getting better every day,” Fresno State head coach Linda Garza said. “While we are humbled by the results of this poll, there are respectable programs who have competed well in conference and will be giving us a run for our money this year.”

The back-to-back conference champions have 13 players returning including starters Kamalani Dung, Malia Rivers and Mountain West Player of the Year, Kierra Willis.

“My expectations are to win the Mountain West Conference and go all the way. I’m expecting to win an NCAA Championship, but I think we’re going to focus on taking it game by game,” sophomore pitcher Dung said. “Focus on doing the best that we can do and everyone handling their jobs.”

Boasting a 2016 overall record of 42-12-1, the Bulldogs will find winning the conference for the third straight year, in Garza’s first year at Fresno State, will be a tall mountain to climb.

Sophomore outfielder Morgan Howe said, “We just have to stay grinding and continue to work hard, keep pushing each other and hold each other accountable. Just make sure we’re doing what we need to do.”

The Bulldogs will open their season against Indiana at the ASU Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Arizona on Feb. 10 at 8 a.m.