Feb. 4, 2008
When UC Santa Barbara head softball coach Kristy Schroeder stepped down last spring, it was important to the Athletics Department and the Gaucho softball team to maintain the program's current rise into the upper echelon of Division I. In Schroeder's six seasons as head coach, she led the Gauchos to their first three NCAA Tournament appearances and three seasons with 30 or more wins.
It seemed logical when Schroeder's former assistant, Brie Galicinao, was picked to replace her mentor as head coach in June. Galicinao was not only a part of the softball staff for the Gauchos' consecutive NCAA appearances in 2006 and 2007, the former Princeton pitcher had also coached the conference and school's career strikeout leader for those two seasons and guided the Gaucho hurlers to the best conference ERA in 2007.
In her first season at the helm of the program, Galicinao has not altered the team's objectives.
"This year is about consistency. This year is about making sure it is all about us," Galicinao began. "I don't think that much has changed. Of course we have the goal of winning conference and going to regionals again."
Many may think that winning a conference title may be ambitious for a first year head coach that lost four talented starters to graduation last season. At least the other Big West coaches do, as they placed the Gauchos seventh out of eight teams in the preseason poll released last month. What the conference coaches may have failed to notice about this season's Gauchos are the five returning starters, three All-Big West selections, and a young and determined coaching staff.
"As long as we play up to our talent on a consistent basis, all of the winning will fall into place," Galicinao said. "We are excited about the team and the new staff. We are young, but we are an experienced team."
The Gaucho circle will see three returning faces this season, but notably absent will be the 2007 Big West Pitcher of the Year and the conference and UCSB career strikeout record holder, Jennifer Davis. With its ace now graduated, UCSB will look for their next superstar or superstars to emerge from a talented group of right-handed pitchers.
"While we don't have Jen anymore, and we will miss her, I think we do have a lot to be excited about," Galicinao said. "I think pitching is going to be the X-factor for us this year. We don't have the returning ace, but that's not to say that someone is not going to step-up. It is just a matter of who, and how often. We are just going to use whatever combination works best."
Sophomore MeLinda Matsumoto returns for her second season in the blue and gold and will look to follow up a solid freshman campaign. The Union City, Calif. native posted a 2.63 ERA in 98.1 innings played last season. She finished the year with a 9-6 overall record, but was 9-1 entering Big West Conference play.
"When I think back to two of the most exciting games we had as a team last year: defensively against San Diego State (a 1-0 win on Feb. 9) and offensively against Arizona State (an 8-7 upset over the No. 2 ranked Sun Devils on Mar. 2), MeLinda was pitching both of them," said Galicinao. "Mel has presence on the mound, that is something that is an intangible with her...her composure is her biggest strength."
Another returning sophomore is Lindsey Correa, who posted a 5-1 record in her 44.1 innings pitched in 2007. Correa tallied 24 strikeouts and a 3.95 ERA. She helped the Gauchos to an upset over No. 23 Massachusetts (Feb. 9) in her collegiate debut and also threw the lone no-hitter of the season in a mercy win over Northern Colorado on Feb. 17.
"Lindsey does have a lot to bring to the circle, she is throwing hard and her rise ball is looking really good," said Galicinao. "She is able to use different speeds now, because she was lacking the consistency of a change up last year. She has a couple of off-speed pitches this year, so I am excited."
Rounding out the group of returners is junior Tami Weston. The pitcher posted a 0.86 ERA in 24.1 innings of work in 2007 and went 2-0 while fanning 21 batters.
"When she is on, she's on. It is just a matter of her being consistent and throwing strikes. When she is throwing the ball hard, she is effective," said Galicinao.
Sophomore Jennifer Day joins the team and will compete for innings in the circle. Day, who comes to UCSB via Alemany High School in Los Angeles, was a three-time All-Mission League selection and two-time Mission League MVP.
Returning for her third season behind the plate for the Gauchos is senior catcher Ericka Hansen. Hansen was second amongst the Gauchos and sixth in conference last season for chances (345) and putouts (297) and caught 22 runners stealing, a conference high. Not just a defensive asset, Hansen was also solid at the plate, hitting .231 with a .357 on-base percentage and a team-leading 24 walks.
"It always helps to have experience, especially at catcher and this is her third year behind the plate," said Galicinao. "Ericka is so visible out there, I think one of her biggest strengths is that she communicates well with the team."
Adding depth to the position will be sophomore Kelsey Anderson. The Santa Maria, Calif. native saw action in six games last season and posted a perfect 1.000 fielding percentage with 20 chances and 20 putouts.
The Gaucho infield will see the most change this season, with the loss of first baseman Jessica Hejna and shortstop Brittany Putich to graduation. Filling the gap left by Hejna will be sophomore Jessica Ziegler, who is also very capable at shortstop and in the outfield.
"Ziegler knows the game well enough to play anywhere," said Galicinao. "The transition (to first base) is easy for her because she is athletic, fast, and has a great arm."
Two-time All-Big West selection Christine Ramos returns for her third season at second base. The energetic infielder led the team with her .359 batting average, 66 hits, 184 at-bats, and .389 on-base percentage and was tied for first on the team with 33 runs scored. The nation's 31st toughest player to strikeout in 2007, Ramos was solid defensively with her .949 fielding percentage.
"Ramos picked up where she left off. She has always been real vocal and she has been a true quarterback for the infield."
Filling the gap left by Putich at shortstop will be freshman Jessica Beristianos or junior Jackie Conlin. Beristianos comes to UCSB from Newark Memorial High School where she was a three-time First Team All-Mission Valley Athletic League selection.
"Jessica is tough and athletic with a strong arm," Galicinao said. "She should be able to work well into the group."
Rounding out the Gaucho infield is senior third baseman Tisha Duran. A 2007 First Team All-Big West selection, Duran was second on the team last year with her .327 batting average and was first for runs scored (33), RBI (33), slugging percentage (.482), total bases (81), doubles (11), and triples (3). Defensively, Duran was a force in the hot corner, posting a .942 fielding percentage with 103 assists.
The Gaucho outfield will benefit from the presence of veterans Nicole Churnock and Tiffany Wright this season. Churnock will return to man left field during her senior campaign. The Orange, Calif. native posted a .986 fielding percentage in 2007 while hitting .206 on the year with 20 hits, eight runs, four doubles, and seven RBI.
All-Big West Honorable Mention, Wright had a commendable sophomore season, starting all 53 games in center field and posting a .959 fielding percentage. The Corona, Calif. native batted .268 and was second on the team with 27 RBI, nine doubles, five homeruns, and a .439 slugging percentage.
Right field will be up for grabs depending upon hitting according to Galicinao. Freshmen Mary Episcopo and Katie McWhirter have a chance to step-up and fill the last starting spot, as does Conlin and senior Danielle Meyers.
Offense at a Glance
With three of their four leading hitters from 2007 returning, all of which earned All-Big West honors, the Gauchos' transition into 2008 should be smooth.
"I think as long as we get consistent performances and build upon last year, we should be in good shape," Galicinao said. "Ziegler is going to see a lot of time at the plate at the two spot and that should add more speed to the bases."
"We definitely want to be able to score more runs this year, not because we have to, but because we really do have the offense."
If the 2007 season taught the Gauchos anything, it was that a tough nonconference schedule in the preseason could equate to a chance at the postseason. UCSB held a 20-8 record heading into Big West play last season and the Gauchos had knocked off three ranked teams: No. 23 Massachusetts, No. 2 Arizona State, and No. 11 UCLA. Once the conference season opened though, the Gauchos struggled, falling in their first six Big West match-ups.
The Gauchos snapped out of their slump and ended the season with a 7-11 conference mark and a sixth-place finish in the competitive Big West. Lucky for UCSB, its nonconference success helped its RPI and allowed the Gauchos to join the ranks of the nations' best in the 2007 NCAA Tournament.
In an attempt to prepare the Gauchos for their fourth NCAA appearance in five years, the UCSB coaches have put together another challenging schedule for 2008. The Gauchos will take on five opponents currently ranked in the USA Today/NFCA Division I Top 25 Preseason Poll and 11 opponents that participated in the 2007 NCAA Tournament, including four Super Regional qualifiers, and one team that advanced to the College World Series.
"It is an expectation that we are going to have a tough schedule and it is not just important for the postseason. It is also to our benefit that we play in the conference that we do," Galicinao summed up.
The Gauchos will open the 2008 season this weekend at the Stacy Winsberg Memorial Tournament (alternately called the UCLA/Cal State Fullerton Freeway Series) at UCLA. UCSB will face Nevada on Friday, Feb. 8 at 3 p.m. in the season opener.