Top-Ranked Bruin Softball Aims for 10th National Title
Jan. 26, 2001
The future looks bright for the 2001 UCLA softball team.
With a mix of experienced upperclassmen and a group of talented freshmen, this is a team with endless potential.
'This group has great cohesion, and really enjoys being around one another,' said Bruin head coach Sue Enquist. 'We are very diverse in our personalities, interests and backgrounds but, when this group comes together on the field, they are truly one.'
Despite losing last year's primary catcher, Julie Marshall, the Bruins regain the services of one of the most talented catchers in the world. Stacey Nuveman was granted a second redshirt for the 2000 season in order to participate with the U.S. Olympic Team, which won a gold medal at the Sydney Games. Nuveman's Olympic experience included a three-run 10th inning home run to defeat China in the first game of the medal round. Defensively, Nuveman caught the first solo no-hitter in Olympic history (Lori Harrigan, a 6-0 win over Canada), and was perfect defensively on 129 chances.
Auelua played 17 games behind the plate for the 2000 Bruins without a passed ball, as UCLA accumulated a 14-3 record with her catching. Mims, UCLA's regular first baseman a year ago, caught in high school and during summer competition with the Phoenix Storm, and is expected to be a regular part of the battery in the upcoming season.
'All three of our catchers are excellent in their gloves, their lateral movement, their arms, and their game-calling,' said Enquist. 'That gives me great flexibility in our pitcher-catcher combinations.'
In the circle, the Bruins again have a wide variety of players from which to choose.
Leading the way will be senior Courtney Dale, who is expected to be healthy for the upcoming season after shoulder and knee surgeries during the off-season. As a sophomore in 1999, Dale tied a UCLA record with 33 victories, and was named to the All-College World Series Team as she pitched the Bruins to their eighth NCAA title. A healthy Dale will be a valuable power pitcher in Enquist's rotation.
When Dale went down with a shoulder injury last February, the top rotation spot went to junior Amanda Freed. Freed responded, pitching the Bruins to the title game at the Women's College World Series. She also was named the Most Outstanding Player at UCLA's NCAA Regional.
Freed set several records during the 2000 season, notching two tournament strikeout records at the Hallowell Chevrolet Classic in mid-March (single game-13, tournament-44), and then matching her career-high with 13 strikeouts in the NCAA Championship game against Oklahoma.
The other pitcher who played a vital role for the 2000 Bruins was current senior Stephanie Swenson. A Bruin mainstay in 1998, Swenson stepped up and brought her game to a new level last year, earning a 10-1 record, a team-leading 0.81 ERA while pitching 77.2 innings, and honorable mention All-Pac-10 notice.
Joining the rotation in 2000 will be freshmen Keira Goerl and Marcel Torres. Goerl dominated in the circle during her high school career, allowing just two earned runs in her last two years and posting 0.04 and 0.05 ERAs as a junior and senior, respectively. Torres pitched and played third base for Gordon's Panthers ASA team and at Diamond Bar High School, earning All-CIF and All-American honors prior to UCLA.
'We have a lot of different looks available to us in the circle this year,' said Enquist. 'We have power pitching in Courtney Dale, great versatility in Amanda Freed, and Keira Goerl, who will complement both of them.'
Versatility is once again the theme in the Bruin infield for 2001. All three of UCLA's catchers also can play the corners, and only one starting infield position is secure heading into preseason practice.
Natasha Watley will continue as UCLA's starting shortstop in 2001. As a freshman, Watley was named a first-team NFCA All-American, batting a team-best .426 while stealing a UCLA single season-record 32 bases, which also topped the previous Bruin career record. In UCLA's postseason opener against Canisius, Watley set an NCAA Tournament record for stolen bases in a single game, swiping four in as many attempts.
For the first time since 1998, UCLA will have someone other than Lyndsey Klein at second base. Sophomore Monique Mejia holds the inside track on the starting spot at second base, but will be challenged by juniors Crissy Buck and Casey Hiraiwa.
Mejia played outfield as a freshman, appearing in 50 of UCLA's 59 games. Buck started all 69 games at shortstop for the 1999 Bruins, and spent last season splitting time between shortstop and the outfield.
Hiraiwa was an honorable mention All-Pac-10 selection while playing second base for the Bruins in 1998. She redshirted the 1999 season with a torn ACL, an injury from which she has completely recovered. Last season, Hiraiwa made six plate appearances in 18 games, hitting .333 primarily as a pinch-hitter.
A mix of five players will vie for playing time on the corners. Mims started at first base in 54 of UCLA's 59 games last season, while Nuveman played first on occasion in 1999. Auelua, who opened the 2000 season at third base while former All-American Julie Adams recovered from off-season shoulder surgery, will also see time at third base in 2001. Joining this mix of experience will be freshmen Claire Sua and Marcel Torres.
Sua comes to UCLA from Cooper City, FL, where she was an outstanding pitcher and first baseman en route to earning Gatorade Player of the Year honors for the state of Florida. Torres, an All-CIF performer from Diamond Bar, CA, was a third baseman and pitcher for Diamond Bar High School and Gordon's Panthers ASA team, earning All-America honors.
'With so many people playing multiple positions, what people will see from this team is that we have so much versatility,' said Enquist. 'We have a combination of youth and experience at the corners, and we have experience up the middle.'
The starting outfield spots are also up for grabs, but once again, Enquist has a myriad of talent from which to choose.
When she is not in the pitching circle, Freed will quarterback the outfield, playing in center.
'I think that Amanda's pitching really overshadows her skills in the outfield,' said Enquist. 'I think she is one of the best centerfielders in the country. She has an excellent, accurate arm, a great read on the ball and has speed. All of these qualities put her in the elite group of outfielders across the country.'
Brambila has been a Bruin regular in the outfield since walking on in 1998. She has posted two consecutive error-free seasons in the grass, starting all 59 games in left field last season. A threat on the basepaths as well, Brambila is working her way through UCLA's career stolen base list with 24. including 17 last season.
Rahn spent much of the 2000 season sidelined with a stress reaction in her foot, but is ready significantly contribute in 2001. Last season, Rahn used her speed to swipe five bases on five tries. Ramos will likely play in centerfield when Freed is in the pitching circle, and will certainly be in the mix for the left field spot as well.
'All three have good speed and solid arms,' said Enquist. 'They will all have the opportunity to win the starting left field position during the preseason.'
Another combination of players is in the mix for right field, including Auelua, Mims, Dale and Brambila. 'All of them are capable of holding down right field,' said Enquist, 'and once again, they will all have the opportunity to win that position in the preseason.'
Enquist also will have a stable of baserunning specialists from which to choose during the upcoming season. 'This is an element of the game where we have never really been deep,' said Enquist. 'This year, it will be nice to look down the dugout and see the speed waiting to go in and run for our power hitters.'
Those baserunning specialists will include freshmen Julie Hoshizaki and Amanda Simpson, as well as Hiraiwa and Rahn. All have the speed and baserunning savvy to make an immediate impact for the Bruins.
For the second consecutive season, the Pac-10 will play a 21-game schedule, leaving the Bruins to fill game dates with five tournaments and seven non-conference doubleheader opponents.
This season's schedule will include UCLA's regular trip to the Hedrick's Hallowell Chevrolet Classic in Fresno, CA, in mid-March. The Bruins also will host he dual-site Easton Classic March 2-4 at UCLA's Easton Stadium and Cal State Northridge's Matador Diamond.
'The Pac-10 will be as competitive as it has been in the past,' said Enquist, referring to the conference that had four schools host NCAA Regionals and all eight schools advance into NCAA play in 2000. 'What I enjoy about being in the Pac-10 is that our players are motivated for every opponent because of the dominance in the conference. I think that raises everybody's level of play and, as a result, you see better softball on the field.'
'We're going to have to be a team that learns quickly, because we have a lot of underclassmen who will be asked to come through for us consistently,' said Enquist. 'We will have to be quick on our feet in terms of our learning curve, and we have to manage what the game throws at us with maturity and a positive attitude. This team loves the game and has great pride in wearing the uniform. They are hungry and ready to take on the challenges of the 2001 season.'