Eight Schools in Eight Days: UCLA Softball Season Preview
Feb. 2, 2006
The same group of Bruins that lost a heartbreaking extrainnings final in the NCAA Championship Series last season will be back for another shot in 2006. UCLA had just one senior on last year's squad, bullpen catcher Nicole Sandberg, and many of the returning Bruins put in off-season work to improve for the upcoming season. Add to that mix three new players and a 19-player UCLA roster will be ready to open its 2006 campaign at the Campbell/Cartier Tournament in San Diego on February 9.
After turning in a record-setting freshman season, Anjelica Selden has spent the off-season fine-tuning her repertoire of pitches for the 2006 campaign. Last year, the Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year and Second-Team NFCA All-American set school single-season records for innings pitched andstrikeouts as well as a 23-strikeout performance that is the highest single-game total by a Bruin pitcher from a 43-foot pitching distance.
'Jelly earned a wealth of experience last season,' said UCLA head coach Sue Enquist. 'She is capable of dominating any hitter who steps into the batters box and her challenge for this season is to maintain her level of excellence throughout the season.'
Joining Selden in the circle will be junior Lisa Dodd, a two-time All-WCWS honoree whose athletic ability makes her a valuable asset for Enquist anywhere on the diamond. Although her finesse game from the pitching rubber does not yield the same high strikeout numbers asSelden, the change in style makes Dodd even more valuable to the Bruins.
'Lisa worked hard in the off-season to refine her pitches,' said Enquist, 'and she will be called upon this year to help lead the team in the circle. Lisa has great value to this team offensively as well as in the circle and elsewhere defensively.'
Behind the plate will be a highly skilled, experienced group of catchers, led by senior All-Pac-10 selection Emily Zaplatosch. An All-WCWS selection last year, Zaplatosch led the Bruins in doubles and RBIs and was perfect defensively on 558 chances.
'Emily is a leader on this team,' said Enquist. 'She manages the highs andlows of the game extremely well and a lot of the players on this team look to her for leadership.'
Joining Zaplatosch behind the plate is junior Jaisa Creps. Shoulder surgery during her freshman season and the resulting rehabilitation has limited her playing time, but she is healthy for the 2006 season.
Junior Shana Stewart has a thankless job handling the Bruin pitchers in the bullpen, where she will be joined by sophomore Jen Schroeder, who also could see time DP and first base.
UCLA returns a very experienced group of infielders for the 2006 season. Around the horn, starters are expected to include senior Andrea Duran at third base, junior Jodie Legaspi at shortstop, senior Caitlin Benyi at second base and junior Ashley Herrera or Lisa Dodd at first base.
An All-Pac-10 first team selection a year ago, Duran continues to showcase her lightning-quick reflexes at the hot corner, where she turned in a .950 fielding percentage. Duran is also an outstanding offensive player, hitting in the critical leadoff spot for the second half of last season when she broke the UCLA single-season record with eight triples, tied for the team lead in steals and was second on the team with a .317 batting average.
'I believe that Andrea Duran is the best in the country at her position,' said Enquist. 'She has great reactions, a great glove and impressive versatility. She is a marquee player in this program, and when Dre does well, the team does well.'
Legaspi enters her third season as UCLA's starting shortstop. An Honorable Mention All-Pac-10 selection last season, Legaspi was second on the team with nine home runs and 36 RBIs.
'I continue to be impressed by Jodie's commitment in the off season,' saidEnquist. 'She is a step quicker both laterally on defense and down the lineoffensively. She is a go-to player in our offensive lineup and we will rely on her heavily to drive in runs.'
A two-time NFCA All-American, Benyi was UCLA's top hitter last season, finishing with team-highs of a .333 batting average, 14 home runs and a .643 slugging percentage as well as anchoring the team defensively at second base.
'Caitlin's offensive skill combined with her defensive consistency and emotional leadership make her an important leader on this team,' said Enquist. 'She is an integral part of what we are going to try to accomplish this season.'
Enquist has several options at first base. Herrera spent a majority of the innings during UCLA's fall schedule at first base and should hold down that position when Dodd is pitching. Offensively, Sophomore pitcher Anjelica Selden earned second-team All-America and Pac-10 Newcomer of the Year honors last season.
Herrera hit in the bottom-third of the lineup last season, turning in six doubles and three home runs, including one in UCLA's WCWS opener against Cal. Herrera finished last season starting in left field and is expected to play there when Dodd is not pitching. 'Lisa is our best utility infielder,'said Enquist.
Kristen Dedmon is yet another option for Enquist at first base. Dedmon saw time at the position last season as well as at DP, turning in six home runs and 26 RBIs. Dodd finished the 2005 season as UCLA's starter at first base and could continue to see time there when she is not inthe circle.
Enquist also has a trio of solid substitutes at her disposal for the four infield positions. Senior Alissa Eno is capable of stepping in defensively as well as playing a critical role for the Bruins as a pinch runner. Danielle Peterson's role expanded towards the end of last season, culminating in a game-winning RBI double during UCLA's comeback 5-4victory over Georgia in game two of the NCAA Super Regionals. Junior transfer Celina Rubalcaba comes to the Bruins after spending two years at Fullerton College, where she earned NFCA All-America honors and Co-MVP notice from the Orange Empire Conference at shortstop.
Junior centerfielder Tara Henry returns to anchor the Bruin outfield. Last season, Henry had a team-high 10 stolen bases. 'Tara has excellent instincts as a centerfielder,'said Enquist. 'She has great speed and leadership in the outfield and is a strong threat offensively with her slapping game.'
Sophomore Krista Colburn had a dream start to her college career, connecting for hits on her first eight plate appearances as a Bruin while starting all 60 games as a true freshman. Junior Whitney Holum will also vie for time in the outfield. Last season, Holum saw time in the outfield and at DP. Several other players have the potential to see playing time in the outfield, including Dodd, Herrera and Stewart.In addition to UCLA's outfield speed, the team will have two other players who will primarily serve as pinch runners. Utility pitcher Kelsey Enquist, the niece of UCLA head coach Sue Enquist. Maryn Oyoung will join Enquist as one of UCLA's wealth of pinch runners this season.
The Bruins will begin their 2006 schedule at the Campbell/Cartier Tournament in San Diego, playing five games over the first four days of the season.
'I'm excited about this season because this team collectively understands what it means to respect the game,' said Enquist. 'We have a wonderful complement in the circle with Dodd and Selden. We have competition behind the plate with Zaplatosch, Creps and Schroeder. We will have speed on thecorners with Duran and Herrera and stability up the middle with Benyi and Legaspi. In the outfield, we will be fleet-footed with strong arms and great reads with five or six players vying for the three starting spots.
'Although we are top-heavy with experience for the first time in a long while, with either seven or eight upperclass starters depending on who is pitching, I look forward to this team showing its growth and working towards our goals as a team.'
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