2007 Season Preview: Gauchos Hope Experience Leads the Way to Success

Feb. 5, 2007

SANTA BARBARA, Calif. - The UCSB softball team, fresh from its trip to the 2006 NCAA Tournament, is geared up with an increased desire and some fresh new faces to return to the Big Dance in 2007.

Santa Barbara returns six starters and seven letterwinners, including four seniors who have played together since their freshman campaigns, if not in high school. The senior leadership and experience will benefit the seven newcomers that join the Gaucho squad this season.

"I think everyone on the team feels like we are capable of beating anybody out there," UCSB Head Coach Kristy Schroeder said. "Hopefully the experienced players on the team and the seniors will really lead the team this year in getting us to achieve [our] goals."

The 2006 team had a stacked schedule last season, playing 17 games against teams that qualified for the NCAA Tournament. UCSB also played five opponents ranked in the top 25, with its biggest win of the year coming when Santa Barbara defeated No. 5 Stanford 2-0 behind stellar pitching from junior Jennifer Davis on March 4.

This season's schedule will be a challenge for the Gauchos again, which will help prepare the squad for the difficult Big West Conference season. UCSB begins its season in San Diego at the competitive San Diego State Campbell/Cartier Tournament before hosting two tournaments of its own. Santa Barbara will also make the trek to Tempe, Ariz. to compete in the Arizona State Tournament and head north for the Stanford Tournament before beginning rigorous Big West play.

"I think our schedule's real tough again but I think we have some real winnable games and some games that are going to be real challenging," Schroeder said. "I think the seniors would like to see us do well against the top teams in the country, especially the Pac-10."

The experience of the returnees and the talent of the newcomers, coupled with the difficult schedule, should prepare the Gauchos for a very successful season with hopes of NCAA Tournament success in the back of their minds.

"I think everybody on this team has been to the tournament twice, two times out of three years, so they do have more experience, they understand what it's all about more and hopefully they won't let the season get away from them," Schroeder said. "This team is the most capable that I've had, or the most experienced and hopefully the smartest because of what they have experienced in the past."

Pitching
With the addition of two pitchers and the return of right-handed pitchers senior Jennifer Davis (Whittier, Calif./California HS) and sophomore Tami Weston (Ventura, Calif./Ventura HS), Gaucho pitching is set for success.

Davis had another stellar year as the anchor for UCSB, pitching 72 percent of Santa Barbara's innings. The Whittier, Calif. native earned her third consecutive all-conference honor, being named to the All-Big West Second Team last season. Davis posted numbers worthy of the record books last season and they can only go up from there.

Davis now sits in second place on UCSB's career strike out list with 630, just 10 K's behind the current leader. The hurler struck out 234 in her junior season, which was also good for first place on the career single season strikeout list. Davis went 18-17 last season, which tied her for first for single season pitcher's victories and also tied for the highest number of single season wins for all pitchers entering the NCAA Tournament.

Also returning for UCSB is Weston, who saw limited playing time in the 2006 season. Pitching in 32 innings last year, Weston posted a 2-4 record, striking out 24 and giving up 26 earned runs.

Joining Davis and Weston in the circle will be freshmen Lindsey Correa (Lake Forest, Calif./El Torro HS) and MeLinda Matsumoto (Hayward, Calif./James Logan HS). Correa, who possess a similar style to Davis, played for one of the best softball conferences in Orange County, her high school team was second in California and eighth in the nation during her senior year. Correa, El Toro High School's Female Athlete of the Year in 2005 and 2006, also helped her travel ball team take first place at the 18U SoCal State Championships in 2006. According to Schroeder, Correa can move the ball in and out, throwing a nice curve, screwball and rise ball.

Matsumoto, who relies upon a drop ball and a change up, will be a strong addition to UCSB in the circle. She posted a .292 ERA in her prep years and was named to the All-Mission Valley Athletic League first team in 2006 and to the second team in 2005.

Catchers
The Gauchos look well prepared behind the plate with the trusty glove of sophomore Ericka Hansen (San Clemente, Calif./San Clemente HS). Taking over the position last season, Hansen started all 46 games for the Gauchos and posted excellent numbers on both defense and offense. Hansen caught 21 base runners stealing, tops in the Big West Conference, and established a rapport with Davis that will no doubt benefit them this season as well.

"Ericka will be much better behind this plate this year," Schroeder said. "I think last season, she started throwing people out, and [this season] she picked that up from where she left off."

Infield
Coach Schroeder is mixing things up in the infield -- shuffling returning players and adding some newcomers to the mix. Senior Jessica Hejna (Orange, Calif./El Modena HS) will make the move from the outfield to first base for the Gauchos this season. Schroeder cited a desire for more talk in the infield, something she is confident the three-year starter is capable of doing.

Senior three-year letterwinner Brittany Putich will be returning to shortstop for the Gauchos. Putich, who has started all of her games at UCSB, provides experience and talent that will help lead the Gaucho infield.

Sophomore Christine Ramos (Long Beach, Calif./Lakewood HS) will return to her position at the two-bag for UCSB. In addition to her defensive prowess in the middle infield, Ramos provides power in the line-up.

Schroeder is looking for transfer student junior Tisha Duran (Ventura, Calif./Ventura College) to be a helpful addition to UCSB's defense and offense. Duran is a natural athlete, according to Schroeder, and has quick hands that will help her at the hot corner.

Outfield
Coach Schroeder will be revamping the outfield starting rotation as the year progresses. Junior Liz Walters (Orange, Calif./El Modena HS), sophomore Jackie Conlin (San Pedro, Calif./San Pedro HS), junior Nicole Churnock (Orange, Calif./Rosary HS), sophomore Tiffany Wright (Corona, Calif./Santiago HS) and freshman Jessica Ziegler (San Diego, Calif./Westview HS) will all be seeking time in the outfield.

Wright is making the switch to the outfield from first base, where she started all 46 games last season for the Gauchos, and she's bringing her strong arm and power with her. Wright also offers a strong bat in the line-up for the Gauchos after batting third on the team at .277. Walters is one of the four seniors on the squad and has started in the outfield for UCSB in 70 games during her career.

Churnock and Conlin both split time in the grass last season and Conlin has the added experience of playing right field in both of Santa Barbara's NCAA Tournament regional games last May.

"The people who will be jumping into the outfield --Liz and Nicole-- they've definitely been through a lot and hopefully one of them will be able to jump out and give us some good innings out in the outfield," Schroeder said.

Ziegler has a strong arm and is a good defensive player, which will allow her to fill in anywhere, Schroeder said. The freshman out of San Diego, Calif. helped her high school team to two CIF Championships and was a first team All-CIF and All-Palomar League selection.

Offense at a Glance
This season's offense looks well equipped to make a statement in the Big West. The Gauchos return four of their top five bats from 2006. Key amongst the returnees will be Ramos, who led the team batting .340 with 21 runs off 52 hits.

"Ramos is better this year, just having one year under her belt should make a difference with her. I think she's gained a little bit of power, too," Schroeder said. "Last year she was mostly all slap, a little bit of power but I think she can do a little bit of both now."

Also returning for the Gauchos will be Wright, who hit second on the team at .277. During her freshman campaign, the Corona, Calif. native also contributed six roundtrippers, good for second on the team.

Two of the four seniors have been stalwarts for the Santa Barbara offense in their years at UCSB. Davis has been a staple in the Gaucho line-up, hitting a collective .274 thus far in her career. Though Davis spent most of her time in the circle last season, she did well in her at bats -- hitting a team fourth .258.

Another senior with power for the Gauchos is Putich, who has started every game in her UCSB career. Although she struggled offensively at the beginning of 2006, Putich still was second on the team with 20 runs scored.

Hansen will also be a welcomed return to the offense after hitting .243 last season. Hansen, who has the most patient Gaucho bat, amassed a team-high 34 walks last season, which was also second in the Big West.

"Hopefully we'll hit well and hoping that a couple people who weren't as consistent throughout the year, were down a little bit last year will be able to come through and hit well," Schroeder said about the team's offense. "Our team's a lot more experienced, last year we didn't have one senior on the squad and this year we have four seniors so I think with the addition of Tisha's bat, too, that will help."

Coaching Staff
In her sixth year as head coach, Kristy Schroeder has effectively established a winning tradition at UCSB. In her time at Santa Barbara, Schroeder led the Gauchos to their first ever NCAA Tournament appearance in 2004 and brought them back to the Big Dance in 2006.

Joining Schroeder at the helm in her second year at UCSB is Assistant Coach Brie Galicinao. A four-year starter at Princeton, Galicinao was the first player to win the Ivy League Player and Pitcher of the Year awards. Galicinao, an All-American pitcher, offers more personal attention for the Gaucho pitcher and catchers, an addition they welcomed last year.

"I think we have established a tradition here," Schroeder said. "I think now they're thinking that they want to play for a competitive softball program and UCSB allows them to do that."

After last season's unsuccessful post-season play, the Gauchos are looking for large numbers in the win column to return to the Big Dance. The experience of the returnees, the talent of the newcomers and difficulty of schedule look to be the winning combination for the 2007 UCSB softball team.