Feb. 5, 2007
There will be a new-look team on the field for UCLA Softball in 2007. Gone are a trio of four-year starters in the infield, as well as former head coach Sue Enquist, a fixture in the third base coaching box for the last decade.
However, many pieces of the Bruin puzzle remain the same. Entering the third base coaching box will be first-year head coach Kelly Inouye-Perez, who takes over the top spot on the UCLA coaching staff following the January 1 retirement of Enquist. Inouye-Perez has spent 13 seasons on the Bruins staff as an assistant coach, primarily working with pitchers and catchers.
"I am honored to have the opportunity to lead the UCLA softball program," said Inouye-Perez at the announcement of her promotion. "I look forward to maintaining UCLA softball's tradition of academic and athletic excellence."
Anchoring the Bruin pitching staff for a third consecutive year will be junior All-American Anjelica Selden. Last season, Selden posted 408 strikeouts with a 35-7 record, 1.06 ERA and 16 shutouts en route to first-team All-America honors.
"Jelly had a great fall," said Inouye-Perez. "She worked harder than ever between the white lines and I am excited for another great year. We will rely on her experience and competitive spirit to lead us in the circle this season. "
Senior Lisa Dodd earned second-team All-Pacific Region honors last season as a utility player, combining a 15-2 record in the circle with a perfect fielding percentage on 302 chances as both a pitcher and first baseman.
"I will rely on Lisa's experience in the circle this season. She knows the game and, combined with her athleticism, she will be a strong leader in the infield. Lisa enjoys the pressure of the game and has built an offensive presence as one of the most clutch hitters in post season play," said Inouye-Perez.
A two-time NFCA High School All-American, Baker comes to UCLA having recorded a Washington State high school record 949 career strikeouts.
"Whitney faced medical adversity during fall practice and I believe she built a mental toughness that will allow her to enjoy the challenge of the game," said Inouye-Perez. "She brings great movement and athleticism as a freshman pitcher. She has a presence on the mound that will represent UCLA Softball with a quiet confidence."
Langenfeld, a high school All-American, completed her high school career with a .530 batting average, 907 strikeouts in the circle and a 0.19 ERA for Centennial High School in Bakersfield, Calif. When she is not in the circle, the Bruins will utilize her offensive skills at either first base or designated player.
"Megan has championship experience on the mound and I will expect her to bring her competitive spirit to each game," said Inouye-Perez. "She is a strong hitter that will make an impact in the lineup right awa both as a stopper on the mound and as a threat at the plate."
Creps is the most experienced of the group, having played in 43 games with 21 starts during her Bruin career while backing up her predecessor, four-year starter Emily Zaplatosch. After sitting out much of her freshman season following shoulder surgery, Creps had her best season as a junior in 2006, starting 13 games and posting a .323 batting average.
"Jaisa is one of the hardest workers on the practice field," said Inouye-Perez. "She knows the game and makes the people around her better."
Schroeder has seen time behind the plate and as a designated player during her Bruin career. "Jen is a strong and versatile athlete," said Inouye-Perez. "She can play the corners as well as behind the plate."
Shull was a three-time league MVP playing for Jim Elliot Christian High in Lodi, Calif., where she was a pitcher, catcher and shortstop. Her high school career included a .671 batting average, 45 home runs and 211 RBI, all Cal-Hi leading marks.
"Kaila has tremendous physical skills," said Inouye-Perez. "She has a strong arm and a beautiful swing. Her athletic ability will make us stronger as a team."
UCLA lost two All-America starters in the infield as 2006 Pac-10 Player of the Year Andrea Duran (3B) and three-time All-American Caitlin Benyi (2B) completed their Bruin careers a year ago, but Inouye-Perez has a variety of options to fill those defensive positions in 2007.
The Bruins' anchor in the infield will be senior Jodie Legaspi at shortstop, where she earned second-team All-Region honors last season. Legaspi is the Bruins top returning hitter with a team-high 15 home runs and finishing second on the team with a .349 batting average and 39 RBI, trailing only Duran in those categories.
"Jodie is a leader by example," said Inouye-Perez. "Her teammates respect her and I look forward to seeing her finish strong in her senior year."
Dodd will most likely return to second base in 2007, one of four defensive positions she has played in her Bruin career (first base, second base, right field and pitcher). Dodd has leadership skills and brings a confidence within the infield with her athleticism and knowledge of the game.
A versatile piece of the Bruin puzzle will be provided by senior Ashley Herrera, who started in left field and at first base a year ago. This season, Herrera could start at first, second, third, and in the outfield. She has expanded her game by switching to the left side of the plate and will use her speed to become a bigger threat at the plate. As a junior, Herrera had 15 RBI, three doubles and four home runs to go with 16 stolen bases, the third-best total on the team.
"Ashley will be a valuable asset because of her versatility," said Inouye-Perez. "She worked hard in the fall and is much faster out of the box. I look forward to Ashley using her speed to put pressure on opposing defenses."
Another senior, Celina Rubalcaba, could also see time at second base this spring. Rubalcaba played 26 games as a junior in 2006, starting nine games at second base while Benyi was out of the lineup due to injury. During that stretch, Rubalcaba was error-free defensively with a .318 batting average, six runs scored, two doubles and four RBI.
"Celina has athleticism and great hands," said Inouye-Perez. "She has a great work ethic and a positive attitude."
Freshman Julie Burney rounds out the group of Bruins vying for playing time in the infield. A graduate of El Dorado High School in Palcentia, Calif., Burney led her SoCal Athletics ASA team to a fifth-place finish at the 2006 ASA Gold Nationals after leading El Dorado to the Century League Championship during her senior season. Burney will compete for time at third base.
"Julie was our most improved Bruin during fall practice," said Inouye-Perez. "She is a hard worker with a great arm and has made huge strides since she has been here."
An experienced outfield returns for the 2007 Bruins, including three seniors and a junior, all with game experience.
Quarterbacking the Bruin outfield will be senior centerfielder Tara Henry. Henry posted the third-highest batting average on the team last year, checking in with a .338 average that included 34 runs scored hitting ninth in the batting order. An All-Pac-10 selection last season, Henry has the team's top returning stolen bases total with 18, just two swipes behind Duran.
"Tara is our quarterback in the outfield," said Inouye-Perez. "She has great speed and instincts and will continue to be a threat at the plate. Tara is a born leader and she manages the outfield with an impressive confidence."
Junior Krista Colburn aims to move into the leadoff spot vacated by Duran's graduation and is expected to start in left field. A second-team All-Pac-10 selection last season, Colburn was second on the team with four triples, combining with 26 runs scored, seven doubles and seven home runs for 39 RBI on the year.
"Krista is able to hit to all fields and her short game will allow her to get on base and start the fire for our lineup," said Inouye-Perez.
After starting 42 games last season, primarily at designated player, senior Whitney Holum will compete for a starting spot in the outfield this season. Holum had 15 RBI and seven doubles a year ago. "Whitney enters this season in the best shape of her life," said Inouye-Perez. "She has proven to be a clutch hitter for us and I will expect her to be a strong leader in her senior year."
Senior Shana Stewart made her mark on the Bruin outfielders, and the San Diego State right-field wall, last season, turning a diving into-the-fence catch on the opening weekend into one of the most memorable moments of the Bruins 2006 campaign. Stewart started six games, fielding all four defensive chances cleanly and recorded two RBI in her 16 appearances at the plate.
"Shana has improved in the weight room and continues to improve on the field," said Inouye-Perez. "Her athleticism makes us a better team."
Senior Kristen Dedmon has proven herself as one of the great clutch hitters in program history, connecting on the game-winning RBI in the NCAA Championship game as a freshman and plating the game-tying RBI in the seventh inning of last June's WCWS game against Northwestern. Dedmon hit .333 and drew four walks in her 17 appearances last season and will continue as a valuable hitter in the Bruins lineup.
"Kristen has proven that she can succeed under pressure," said Inouye-Perez. "We will need her as an experienced veteran on this year's team."
Another situational hitter who has a history of connecting in big situations is junior Danielle Peterson. Peterson put an exclamation point on her freshman season in 2005 with a game-tying double in a Super Regionals elimination game against Georgia and has been a valuable pinch hitter in the Bruin dugout.
"Danielle has been able to clutch up in big situations for us," said Inouye-Perez. "She has great presence in the box. I can always rely on a quality at-bat from her."
The Bruins group of specialists is rounded out by sophomore pinch-runner Kelsey Enquist. Although Enquist saw limited on-field action last season, she was invaluable to the team's success, throwing countless innings of live batting practice for UCLA's hitters. After an off-season of hard work, Enquist is ready to be a gameday threat on the bases in 2007. "Kelsey worked hard this fall and improved her speed on the bases by more than a step," said Inouye-Perez. "Her skills are improving and she will be a valuable pinch runner this season."
The Bruins return to some familiar non-conference tournaments in 2007. The season will begin at Arizona State's Kajikawa Classic tournament with games played both at ASU's Farrington Stadium and at a four-field tournament complex in Phoenix. UCLA opens the season against Texas, extending one of the country's marquee non-conference rivalries that has evolved over the past few seasons.
UCLA then travels to the Louisville Slugger Desert Classic with four games at UNLV's Eller Media Stadium and Sunday's game at the Craig complex in Henderson, Nev. From Las Vegas, UCLA travels to the Palm Springs Classic which will feature match-ups with Tennessee and a rematch with Northwestern, the team that knocked the Bruins out of the 2006 Women's College World Series.
The team's March schedule opens with UCLA's own Stacy Winsberg Memorial Tournament at Easton Stadium. UCLA's tournament schedule concludes the following weekend at the Long Beach State Invitational. Non-conference single-date opponents include local foes UC Riverside, Loyola Marymount, Cal State Fullerton, and UCSB as well as Southern Utah and a doubleheader at Cal Poly as the Bruins emerge from winter quarter final exams.
UCLA opens Pac-10 play on March 30 with Arizona State before hosting Arizona for a pair of weekend games.
"Senior experience will be a key to this year's success," said Inouye-Perez. "This group of seniors won a national championship as freshmen and a Pac-10 title as juniors. Now it's their time to lead this team back to the top and hopefully end their careers as they started."