Embarking on its first season in Conference USA, the NMSU softball team will return to action tomorrow with a home-field advantage.
Coming off the 2023 season, the Aggies will kick off the new year with a doubleheader against Monmouth University at the NM State Softball Complex. Their season opener will be followed by a two-game series against Abilene Christian University on Saturday, Feb. 10.
After years of success in the Western Athletic Conference, the team has changed leagues for the first time in 18 seasons. NMSU officially began its affiliation with Conference USA on July 1, 2023. As the Aggies inch closer to the start of their first season under a new athletic conference, the 48-game schedule has NMSU softball fans on the edge of their seats.
According to NMSU alumna and former softball player Victoria Castro, many fans will make the trip to Las Cruces to watch the team compete.
“I’m excited for them,” Castro said. “With being in the new conference, and there being a lot of new faces, it’s exciting to see what can happen. The Aggies were always at the top of the WAC, so I don’t really expect much [to be] different.”
“With being in the new conference, and there being a lot of new faces, it’s exciting to see what can happen.”
Castro played with the team from 2016 to 2019 under the same coaching staff, including head coach Kathy Rodolph and assistant head coach Cat Heifner.
“I feel when playing with coaches like Rodolph and Heifner they not only teach you the ways to be your best as a ball player, but they really prepare you to come out of college as a woman,” Castro said. “Regardless of where they go as a team in the end, I know Rodolph and Heifner always have the team ready to go.”
In early August, NMSU added a new addition to the coaching staff by welcoming assistant coach Benet Higgs. “New Mexico State Softball has a storied history of success, and I am looking forward to being a part of that dynamic culture in our inaugural CUSA season,” Higgs said last summer in an interview published by the athletics department.
“We are thrilled to add Benet Higgs to our staff,” Rodolph said. “She has a great softball mind and is an avid learner. Her teaching philosophy fits in well with our approach to teaching the game. She is a tireless recruiter and I’m excited to have her on our team.”
Along with 28 scheduled home games and 15 conference games, the Aggies will host major tournaments this season, including the Troy Cox Classic and the CUSA Championship Softball Tournament. The annual Troy Cox Classic will welcome four universities to the NMSU field from Feb. 16-19, including North Dakota, Sacramento State, Montana and Nebraska.
Key players to watch out for this season include sophomore Kendal Lunar and senior Riley Carley. After playing exceptional roles in last season’s roster, both players were named to the 2024 Preseason All-CUSA Team in January.
In the Aggie’s final season in the WAC, Carley logged 14 home runs, 29 hits and 23 RBIs in 24 conference games. She played in the starting lineup for 44 out of NMSU’s 46 games and ranked first among returning Aggies in three different categories, including batting average, on-base percentage and slugging percentage.
Her teammate, Lunar, ranked sixth in batting average for freshmen in the WAC. After her college softball debut, Lunar is one out of six sophomores to gain preseason recognition from the conference.
After the Aggies’ regular-season series commences in early May, NMSU will host the 2024 Conference USA Softball Tournament where six teams will compete in a double-elimination format.
The championship game will take place May 11 in a winner-take-all, single-elimination game.