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It’s been several years since she struck out a batter in Cache Valley, but that is going to change.

Nya Laing is returning to the valley to play for the Aggies after a successful stint at Salt Lake Community College. The former Logan High School ace, along with a SLCC teammate, were recently announced by Utah State head softball coach Steve Johnson.

Laing and fellow pitcher Alyssa Millemon made it official on Tuesday.

“We’re excited to have both Alyssa and Nya join the Aggie family,” Johnson said in a press release. “They have worked well together the last two years at SLCC, and we look forward to them adding much needed depth and leadership in our battery. Alyssa and Nya each bring a different look and they complement each other very well.”

The valley native has been the Bruins’ go-to starter each of the last two seasons, leading SLCC with a team-best 19 starts in 2021 and six starts during the shortened 2020 season. Last season, Laing tied for the team lead with Millemon with 15 victories, finishing the year with a 15-2 overall mark. She appeared in 107.0 innings, threw 11 complete games and fanned 86 batters as SLCC finished the year with an overall mark of 52-4 and entered the 2021 NJCAA National Softball Tournament as the No. 1 seed. In 2020, Laing led the Bruins with 11 appearances and 21 strikeouts, while ranking second on the team with 34.0 innings pitched.

Laing was the top female scholar athlete at Logan during the 2018-19 academic year. She burst onto the local softball scene in 2016, earning All-Valley Newcomer of the Year in softball as a freshman for the Grizzlies. Laing was a four-year starter for Logan and earned valley, region and state accolades all four years.

Millemon led the Bruins with 26 appearances a season ago, compiling an overall mark of 15-2 and throwing a team-best 98 strikeouts. The Boise, Idaho, native appeared in a total of 94.1 innings with nine complete games, including one complete game shutout.

SOCCER

Despite finishing second in the Mountain Division last season, the Aggies have been tabbed to take seventh in the 12-team Mountain West Conference in a poll released Wednesday by the league. The coaches voted.

USU has a new coach in Manny Martins and returns nine starters and 17 letterwinners from a team that went 5-4-1 in a shortened season that included just conference games.

“We certainly have loftier goals than seventh, with that said a preseason poll is just that, as I’ve never seen one that matched the final standing,” Martins said in a press release. “For now, our focus is on establishing our playing identity and getting better each day. And in the end, the polls and standings will be a direct reflection of the work we’re doing.”

New Mexico, the defending MW champion, was picked first with 118 points and nine first-place votes, while San Diego State, winners of the West Division during the shortened 2020 COVID season, was picked second with 111 points and three first-place votes. Rounding out the rest of the league is Boise State (93), Fresno State (90), UNLV (77), Colorado College (65), USU (63), San José State (54), Colorado State (52), Wyoming (31), Air Force (23) and Nevada (15).

Back for the Aggies is three-time all-conference senior midfielder Ashley Cardozo, who broke the all-time assist record in USU history last year and is poised to finish her career among the top-five in school history in game-winning goals, shots on goal, shots, points and goals scored. The Aggies also return all-conference sophomore defender Kelsey Steed-Kaufusi and junior goalkeeper Diera Walton, as both were named to the MW all-newcomer teams in 2020 and 2019, respectively.

The nine starters back include Cardozo, Steed-Kaufusi and Walton, senior defenders Alyssa Ulugalu and Imelda Williams, senior midfielder Kami Warner, sophomore midfielder Whitney Lopez and senior forwards Marli Niederhauser and Jordan Foraker. Niederhauser tied for the team lead in goals scored last season, while Warner tied for the team lead in assists.

USU opens the 2021 campaign at Idaho State on Aug. 19, before hosting Northern Arizona in the home opener on Aug. 21, at 3 p.m.

VOLLEYBALL

The Aggie spikers officially began training for the upcoming season this week. They begin the season against North Dakota on Aug. 27, as part of the Utah State Invitational, which they host.

Second-year head coach Rob Neilson guided the Aggies in a shortened spring season in 2021. The Aggies won three of the final four matches in Logan.

USU returns eight letterwinners from the 2021 season, including three of its four top attackers in sophomore outside hitter Tatum Stall, senior middle blocker Corinne Larson and senior outside hitter Kristy Frank. Junior setter Kalena Vaivai led the Aggies with 366 assists, good for sixth in the Mountain West with 7.32 per set during the spring.

Sophomore defensive specialist Abby Peterson was the anchor on the Aggies’ back row, leading the team with 213 digs and averaging 3.67 digs per set to rank sixth in the MW. Larsen is the top blocker returning for USU, finishing second on the team with 55.0 blocks in the spring and averaging 1.03 per set, seventh in the MW.

USU then welcomes nine newcomers to the group in freshman setter Kalia Thunstrom, junior middle blocker Kylee Stokes, a transfer from South Carolina, junior middle blocker Kennedi Boyd, a transfer from Arizona State, freshman outside hitter Kaylie Ray, freshman middle blocker Bella Wooden, freshman outside hitter Adna Mehmedovic, junior opposite side hitter Kenadee Christensen, who spent the last two years at Salt Lake Community College, freshman defensive specialist Haley McUne and freshman setter Beatriz Rodrigues.

GYMNASTICS

Sixteen members of USU’s 2020-21 gymnastics team received Scholastic All-America Award accolades from the Women’s Collegiate Gymnastics Association (WCGA) on Tuesday.

Lexi Aragon, MiKelle Ballard, Carley Bayles, Olivia Blakely, Brianna Brooks, Lara Burhans, Taylor Dittmar, Maia Fishwick, Morgan Gill, Jessica Gutierrez, Hadley Hamar, Tori Loomis, Mikaela Meyer, Ariel Toomey, Leighton Varnadore and Logan Varnadore were all honored by the WCGA for carrying a 3.5 or higher GPA during the school year.

This is the fourth WCGA Scholastic All-America Award for both Dittmar and Leighton Varnadore, the third for both Meyer and Logan Varnadore, and second for Aragon, Gill, Gutierrez, Hamar, Loomis and Toomey.

Northern Illinois posted the top team GPA with a 3.874 and had 20 student-athletes with a GPA of 3.5 or more.

USU had a team GPA of 3.54, an increase from last year’s 3.52.

Shawn Harrison is the sports editor at The Herald Journal. He can be reached at sharrison@hjnews.com or 435-792-7233.

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