Not many of us on BN will forget our softball team's triumphs last year at the Women's College World Series. Although I wasn't able to participate in the game threads I did read through every single one of them. It's hard for me to fully express my gratitude towards everyone for your support of the team when they needed it most. It was a very proud time to be a bruin!
But, as Coach Wooden told Kelly Inouye-Perez when she took over as head coach, "yesterday is as old as dirt." It is now a new year and a new season with very high expectations. Winning a championship may instill confidence and a certain knowledge of "how to win," but it can also lead to complacency. Since this was the first title won by any of the players and Coach Inouye-Perez's first as a head coach, only time will tell what kind of effect it will have on them.
Luckily we don't have to wait long. The Bruins open their 2011 season at home on February 11 against Utah State. Here is my position break down:
Perhaps the biggest change in 2011 will be in the infield. It is very possible that every position will have a new look.
3B - Senior GiOnna DiSalvatore will take over at 3B after the graduation of Julie Burney. If anyone can handle the switch it's DiSalvatore, who has seen significant playing time at 1B, 2B, shortstop, and even right field during her illustrious career at UCLA. The Florida native finished 2010 with the second-highest batting average on the team (.391) and a spot on the NFCA first-team All-America squad.
SS - Senior shortstop Monica Harrison has arguably the quickest release of any softball player at any level. Her achievements often go unnoticed by the casual fan because she makes even the toughest plays seem so effortless.
Right behind Harrison is freshman Kellie Fox. Fox is tall and quick with a very strong arm. She is more than capable of handling the shortstop position should the need arise. When not at SS, Fox will almost certainly play 2B.
2B - If Fox is forced into the shortstop position, 2B could have a few candidates. First is junior power hitter Marti Reed. Reed started 4 games at the position last season and had a .286 on base percentage in 23 at bats.
The other option is freshman Talee Snow. Snow is a finesse hitter capable of making some big plays on defense. I believe either option puts UCLA in good hands.
1B - The graduation of Megan Langenfeld leaves the 1B position open. More than likely we will see Junior Dani Yudin take over. Yudin played 1B every time Langenfeld was in the circle last season. Yudin's contributions on offense often flew under the radar because of UCLA's deep lineup, but the junior had a stellar year finishing with a .336 AVG and 9 HR.
Yudin is also a very good catcher, so when she is back behind the plate 1B may see some new faces. This includes senior utility player Amy Crawford and freshman Jessica Hall.
C - All signs point to freshman Alyssa Tiumalu taking over for Kaila Shull behind the plate for the Bruins. During the Fall Ball games, I noticed Tiumalu has great instincts as a catcher and a killer throw down to 2B.
This year's outfield will be-- to put it mildly-- stacked.
LF - Andrea Harrison emerged as one of the country's premier softball players last season. The junior slugger saved her best for last during a tear through the Women's College World Series in which she set series records for home runs (4), RBIs (11), and the first grand slam ever in a WCWS game. I expect Harrison to continue her success. She is a constant home run threat.
RF - Sophomore BB Bates will start in right field. BB is great with short game hitting but also has deadly power. She is prime for a breakout season.
Junior Sammy Camuso will probably split time between RF, 1B and the designated player position. Camuso was named to the WCWS All-Tournament Team to cap off a ridiculous 10 game post-season in which she hit .467 with 8 HR.
CF - 2011 will see the return of junior Katie Schroeder in center field. Schroeder was a first-team All-American in 2009 but suffered a leg injury at the beginning of 2010 which sidelined her for the rest of the season. Like Bates, Schroeder is a skilled short game hitter-- able to place the ball practically where ever she wants in the infield-- but also a huge power threat. She led the team in home runs in 2009.
Waiting in the wings is sophomore Devon Lindvall. Lindvall made some outstanding plays in the World Series during crucial moments while filling in for Schroeder. She is no doubt a master defensive player, but with a .194 BA last season, she will need to step up offensively to make an impact in the lineup.
Megan Langenfeld may have been the ace of 2010, but one of the Bruins' greatest strengths last season was their pitching depth. Even in the most important game of the year, it was not Langenfeld but a sophomore and junior who pitched UCLA to victory. The experience gained by these returning pitchers should help cushion the loss of Langenfeld.
Donna Kerr - Kerr led the team in wins last season with 18, but finished with the highest ERA of the 3 main starters (2.47). The senior has steadily increased her pitch speed each year with the team while retaining a killer rise and screw ball. She didn't see much action during the World Series, but nonetheless was the one on the mound when the final pitch was thrown to win the championship. She is more than capable of succeeding in big games and I expect her to do just that.
Aleah Macon - After faltering in the opening game of the World Series against Florida, Macon came back to deliver some masterful performances against Arizona in the championship series. The junior throws high heat but mixes in a changeup to keep hitters on their toes. She may be the most consistent of all the pitchers on staff this year.
Destiny Rodino - Rodino saw limited action last season. The sophomore lefty looked great during Fall Ball, mixing in a lot of off speed pitches. Rodino's normal pitch speed is much slower than the rest of the staff, which makes her vulnerable when she's off the mark. But as long as she stays controlled she can be a huge asset.
Jessica Hall - Hall, whom I mentioned as a possible 1B, was recruited as a pitcher who also hits. The 2010 California Gatorade Player of the Year throws lefty and bats from the right side. She carries a lot of speed and a great rise ball, but looked a little wild at times during the Fall games. Hopefully she'll be much more relaxed when the season rolls around because I think she has a lot of potential.
So there you have it. I believe this team is fully capable of repeating, but don't be surprised if there are some growing pains along the way. Langenfeld, Burney, and Shull were all longtime starters at their positions and it may take a while to properly adjust. Thankfully there are enough key returners to build around that even an "adjusting" team like UCLA will pull out victories.
The Bruins have 23 regular season home games scheduled, 5 of which are during opening weekend as they host the Stacy Winsberg Memorial Tournament. I will try and provide a few updates during the season, and I am always eager to answer any questions about the team and college softball in general. Go Bruins!