Weber State’s softball program recently capped off arguably its best season in program history, and a former Sky View standout was the catalyst.

Takesha “Bug” Saltern has been a star for the Wildcats for the past three seasons and her junior year was especially memorable. Saltern led the Big Sky Conference in batting average (.403) and stolen bases (19) en route to being selected as the league’s Player of the Year.

The daughter of Misty and Jason Saltern is only the second Wildcat to ever earn this award.

“It was cool,” Saltern said. “I mean, I couldn’t be there without my teammates, of course. But just seeing the years of hard work pay off in that way, that what I’m doing is being noticed not only by my coaches but by other people around me (is pretty awesome).”

Led by the speedy Saltern, Weber State rolled to a 14-2 record in conference play and captured the regular season Big Sky title. The Wildcats then proceeded to dispatch of the competition at the Big Sky Tournament. Weber State pounded Northern Colorado 8-0 in five innings in the championship game.

That victory gave the Wildcats an automatic berth to the NCAA Regionals, and they became the first-ever Big Sky team to win a game at that tournament. Weber State went 1-2 at regionals with a gratifying 7-3 triumph over four-time defending Big West Conference champion Cal State Fullerton.

“It was awesome just because most of us are small town girls, so it was eye-opening just to be able to be on that stage, especially just to see UCLA go all the way and win it all,” Saltern said. “So, just to say that we played against the national champions (was pretty cool).”

Indeed, Weber State squared off against eventual NCAA champion UCLA and performed admirably before falling, 6-0. The Bruins were led by pitcher/power hitter Rachel Garcia, who was recently named the 2019 Collegiate Woman’s Athlete of the Year.

“It was a good game,” Saltern said. “I mean, I definitely think they respected us in a way, just because they did start Rachel (Garcia), so it’s not like they looked down upon us. ... I feel like they gave us their best game, and we tried to give them our best game.”

The Wildcats were able to peak at the end of the season after taking some lumps early on against a very challenging non-conference schedule. Nevertheless, Weber State still managed to beat a handful of Power 5 Conference opponents, including Stanford, Ohio State and Utah (twice).

“I feel like our preseason in general we did have those couple of those big wins against those bigger teams, but during our preseason we went through a lot as a team,” Saltern said. “We struggled and we had to work through a lot of things to find our team (dynamic). ... Preseason I think prepared us for (everything). Yes, those (big wins) played a difference in we knew that we had potential, but every game there was something we needed to work on, and we came together as a team, which I think was what got us to the point (of winning).

“All of us girls came together and we were like, ‘let’s play for each other. We love this game, so let’s love each other and just play to the best of our abilities,’ because we knew we had potential. We could see it, but for some reason in preseason it wasn’t clicking as much as we wanted it to ... but that brought us to where we were at the end of the year. We wouldn’t have changed anything, even though preseason was a struggle for us.”

It’s fair to say Saltern rarely struggled this past spring. Not only did the Smithfield native pace the Wildcats in batting and stolen bases, she ranked first in hits (64), on-base percentage (.481), runs (42) and walks (24). Saltern, who batted .424 in Big Sky play, also chipped in with four doubles, four triples and one home run.

Additionally, No. 5 only committed four errors in 48 games as WSU’s starting right fielder.

Saltern burst onto the scene as a true freshman in 2017 as she finished second nationally with 92 hits, which is a single-season Weber State record. The 2016 Herald Journal All-Valley Player of the Year shattered the program’s single-season batting average record (.451), which ranked fourth nationally. Saltern belted nine triples as freshman, which broke Weber State’s single season and career record.

For her efforts, Saltern was tabbed the Division I National Freshman of the Year.

Following the 2017 campaign, the NCAA instituted some rule changes, including one that prohibited “batters from having any part of their foot touch the ground outside the lines of the batter’s box when bat-ball contact is made. If a batter violates this rule, she will be declared out.” It was a rule that Saltern struggled with a bit with as a sophomore as her batting averaged dropped to a still impressive .353.

Because Saltern couldn’t step on the line in the batter’s box anymore, she “had to move back in the box, so that kind of threw off my eye’s view of what I felt were strikes. So, I had to really focus on that low outside pitch.”

The three-time first-team all-conference honoree was able to make those adjustments better as a junior, and the results could be seen. Not only did Saltern shine at the plate and defensively, she continued to give opponents fits with her blazing speed on the base paths. After all, the junior was only caught stealing in three of 22 attempts.

Unfortunately for future conference opponents, Saltern still has another year of eligibility. The three-year starter has already helped propel the Wildcats to back-to-back-to-back regular season Big Sky titles.

One of the things Saltern takes a lot of pride in is the Wildcats have excelled recently with a lot of recruits from the Beehive State. There were 10 Utahns on Weber State’s roster this past season.

“Utah is kind of an overlooked state for softball in general, so it’s cool just to put our names out there,” said Saltern who has racked up 16 triples during her collegiate career “... I think it’s cool that we got the opportunity to do that as Utah girls, and just as a smaller school in general, a smaller D-I school in general, that we could put Weber State up on that board and let people know that even though we’re small-town girls and from a university that most people don’t know about besides men’s sports, that we’re capable of playing to the level that (a lot of very good programs) do.”

jturner@hjnews.com Twitter: hjtrebek

Jason Turner is a sports reporter for The Herald Journal. He can be reached at jturner@hjnews.com or 435-792-7237.