There will be a number of new faces on the field for the 2004 UCLA softball team. After graduating four starting seniors, two of whom were chosen for the U.S. Olympic Team, head coach Sue Enquist welcomes a freshman class of eight, and will pilot a program this spring that counts 13 of its 19 members as either freshmen or sophomores.
The battery of pitcher Keira Goerl and catcher Emily Zaplatosch returns intact for 2004. The duo executed every Bruin pitch thrown at the 2003 Women's College World Series, including a no-hitter in the NCAA Championship game.
This season will be the final collegiate campaign for Goerl, who got stronger with each of the 800-plus pitches she threw in Oklahoma City last May. The Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year as a junior, Goerl was one of five finalists for the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Award while earning first-team All-America honors. She was also named the Most Outstanding Player at both the Women's College World Series and UCLA's NCAA Regional.
"Keira's performance at the World Series last year is indelible in everyone's minds," said Enquist. "The greatest challenge for Keira is to come into this season with both a sense of purpose and a sense of urgency to carry this team."
Zaplatosch will return behind the plate for the Bruins. As a freshman, Zaplatosch picked off six baserunners and threw out 11 of the 22 runners who attempted to steal against her. One of five Bruins who had double-figure home runs last season, hitting .305 as a freshman. Zaplatosch was one of six Bruins who traveled to China with the U.S. Junior National Team in October.
"Emily is the quarterback of the infield," said Enquist. "Her skills are balanced, as she has a strong arm and good lateral movement. The additional year of collegiate experience is going to make her that much better of a hitter this season."
The Bruin pitching staff is rounded out by sophomore Michelle Turner and freshmen Lisa Dodd and Kristen Dedmon. Turner pitched sparingly as a freshman in 2003, but finished with a bang, pitching a no-hitter on the final day of the regular season. She earned Pac-10 Pitcher of the Week honors following her performance in the circle in both games of the season-ending doubleheader at Arizona State, before completing a shared perfect game against Colgate in UCLA's NCAA Regional opener.
"I'm excited to see what Michelle can do this season," said Enquist. "Her game is coming together and she has great potential at the plate."
Dodd, the Gatorade National High School Player of the Year in 2003, comes to UCLA with a laundry list of accolades. She spent part of the fall with the silver medal-winning U.S. Junior National Team at the World Championships, and played ASA softball with the 2002 and 2003 Gold National Championship Batbusters.
Dedmon fills out the pitching rotation, and will also see time at first base and designated player. A third-team NFCA High School All-American, Dedmon earned championship experience as her Worth Firecrackers team finished third at the 2003 ASA Championships. "Kristen had an outstanding fall season," said Enquist. "As she continues to work on her consistency offensively, she will become a real bright spot in this program."
UCLA also has a host of catchers to spell Zaplatosch behind the plate, including junior Nicole Sandberg and freshmen Jaisa Creps and Shana Stewart. Sandberg has played a vital role for the Bruins the past two seasons, albeit behind the scenes in the bullpen. "Nicole had some outstanding performances in fall ball," said Enquist. "She showed strong defensive play and was able to deliver offensively."
Creps played with Team USA at the Junior World Championships last October, hitting .444 in her six games played. She comes from the highly successful Batbusters ASA program, which gives her championship experience. "Jaisa has a very strong glove," said Enquist. "I'm looking for her to adjust quickly to our pitching staff and contribute."
Stewart was a two-sport standout at Palm Desert High School, participating in both softball and basketball. Building experience will be the key to Stewart's success as a Bruin. "Shana has an excellent arm," said Enquist. "As she gains experience behind the plate, her level of execution will continue to rise."
All four of UCLA's graduated seniors played infield, so it will be a completely new group on the dirt for the Bruins in 2004.
Senior Claire Sua started at first base through the latter portions of the 2003 season and will look to maintain that position for her senior campaign. A power at the plate, Sua was second on the team with 17 home runs last season, and is among the NCAA's active career leaders with 40 career home runs. If she is not on the bag at first, Sua will remain in the lineup as the designated player. Kristen Dedmon will also compete at first base and DP when she is not pitching.
"Claire has the emotional discipline and the experience to enjoy great success this season," said Enquist. "She has positioned herself to be a true leader on this team."
Sophomore Andrea Duran is expected to move from left field to third base this season. Duran displayed impressive skills at the hot corner during fall practice, and is expected to hold down the position once the season starts. Duran provided a critical sacrifice bunt for the Bruins in the team's second semifinal victory over Texas at last May's Women's College World Series, and participated with the U.S. National Team at the Junior World Championships last fall.
"Andrea is an excellent defensive third baseman with a great glove," said Enquist. "I also look for her to be a consistent contributor offensively."
A utility player in 2003, Alissa Eno will also compete for the position at third base. "Alissa is very versatile," said Enquist. "She is capable of jumping in wherever she is needed."
A number of Bruins are competing for the two starting spots in the middle infield, both positions played exclusively by seniors in 2003. The Bruins have no returning collegiate experience at either shortstop or second base and could have one or both positions fielded by freshmen during the upcoming season.
Sophomore Caitlin Benyi was error-free for the Bruins in right field throughout last season, but is competing for a spot at second base this season. One of six Bruins who participated with the U.S. Junior National Team last October, Benyi got infield experience in China during the Junior World Championship. Offensively, look for her to take over the leadoff spot vacated by last year's national player of the year Natasha Watley.
"Caitlin will have an increased offensive role on our team this year," said Enquist. "She did an excellent job in the leadoff spot in fall training."
Dodd is expected to fight hard for an infield spot when she is not in the pitching circle. "Lisa Dodd loves to compete," said Enquist. "She is one of the most versatile athletes we have on this team, and she is capable of playing a number of positions."
Legaspi also joined the Bruin contingent in China for the 2003 Junior World Championships, and returned to campus for fall practice to make an impression on the UCLA coaching staff that could earn her a starting spot. "Jodie has a strong arm, excellent range and can hit for power," said Enquist.
Herrera is yet another talented freshman vying for a starting spot. "Ashley had a great fall," said Enquist. "Her strength is her speed and quickness."
The anchor in UCLA's outfield, Stephanie Ramos brings three full years of collegiate experience to centerfield for the 2004 Bruins. Ramos caught the last out of the 2003 NCAA Championship game, and enters her senior season among an elite group of .300 career hitters at UCLA. She also enters this season tied for 12th on UCLA's career doubles list with 34.
"Stephanie has developed into a great leader for this program," said Enquist. "She can hit for average and power and will be our quarterback in centerfield."
Senior Julie Hoshizaki who is a utility infielder outfielder, is predominantly competing in the outfield. Julie is an excellent base runner who will ignite the offense with her speed and savvy on the bases.
Benyi was UCLA's starter in right field last season, and may return to that role again in 2004 when she is not playing in the infield. Hoshizaki saw time in left field during the Pac-10 season last year and was able to record her first three career hits, all singles, after spending the majority of her first three seasons as a pinch-runner.
"Julie has a solid defensive game," said Enquist. "She is a senior and a leader on this team."
Amanda Simpson has also seen spot duty in left field, although she has almost exclusively seen action as a pinch-runner during her UCLA career. She started UCLA's 2003 season opener in left field, and is capable of fielding the position again in 2004. "Amanda is one of the best baserunners we've had in a long time," said Enquist. "She has great speed and is a very dependable force in all facets of the game for this team."
An NFCA High School All-American, Tara Henry enters 2004 with a great deal of potential for the Bruins. "Tara's size is deceiving," said Enquist. "She is not afraid to fail, and I expect good things from her this season."
Herrera and Whitney Holum round out the group of freshmen competing for outfield spots.
"Whitney really enjoys the challenge of getting better every day," said Enquist. "She is willing to do whatever we need her to do in order for this team to be successful."
"I think this team is going to have great energy," said Enquist. "We are going to be a team that is fun to watch, and I believe that we have a great group of role models out there. They enjoy the game, and have a great level of respect for the game. That's a wonderful combination to have."