Jan. 23, 2009
Last season, the UCLA softball team's goal was to return to the Women's College World Series and win a national championship. The Bruins accomplished the first step by posting a perfect 5-0 record during Regional and Super Regional play and winning their first WCWS game against Pac-10 rival Arizona. But following losses to Arizona State and Florida, the Bruins' season abruptly ended, falling short of the school's 12th national title.
However, with 14 returning letterwinners, the 2009 Bruins look to advance to the Women's College World Series for the 24th time in school history and hoist the national championship trophy in the middle of an Oklahoma City softball diamond in early June.
"This team ended last season with a sense of unfinished business," third-year head coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said. "We were on a mission to get back to the World Series last year and we got there. Our mission now is to return to dominance. I'm excited about the experience that we have gained. We have the leadership and the work ethic to go all the way this year."
A novice to the UCLA softball program would see the graduation of three-time All-American Anjelica Selden as a devastating loss for the 2009 team. However, the Bruins have an experienced trio in juniors Whitney Baker and Megan Langenfeld and sophomore Donna Kerr, who will aim to prevent the Bruins from missing a beat in the circle.
"I am excited about the talent in the circle for 2009," Inouye-Perez said. "We have three completely different looks. After fall ball, we were able to get a good idea of what we are going to look like. We have experience and that is something you can't teach. Megan has great experience as either a starter or closer and has done well in the postseason too. Donna has been in championship ball her whole career and she won some really big games for us last year. Whitney has great tools and movement and is ready to make an impact in the circle in 2009."
Kerr turned in a solid freshman campaign, leading the Bruins with a 0.93 earned run average, which also ranked seventh in the nation. She went 14-2 with 132 strikeouts in 105 2/3 innings and came up with big performances against a pair of teams that advanced to the Super Regionals a year ago. Kerr tossed a four-hitter in her first collegiate start against Oklahoma on Feb. 8 and fanned 15 in a two-hit shutout of Northwestern on March 9. She also threw the 16th perfect game in UCLA history against Saint Peter's on March 2 during a tournament in her hometown of San Diego.
Whether as a starter or reliever, Langenfeld was also dominant, posting an 8-2 record, a 1.58 earned run average and five saves, which was tied for first in the Pac-10 and 10th in the nation. A first-team All-Pacific Region, second-team All-Pac-10 and third-team All-American selection, Langenfeld had a streak of 27 2/3 scoreless innings at one point during her sophomore season and was masterful in a relief appearance on the second day of the NCAA Regionals against Nevada (May 17), striking out a career-high 10 and allowing no runs in 7 2/3 innings.
Langenfeld will also see time at first base and can't be talked about without mentioning her hitting prowess. "Megan is similar to a Lisa Fernandez in her value as a pitcher, a solid defensive first baseman and one with an offensive reputation to come up clutch in big moments," Inouye-Perez said. Langenfeld hit .349 a year ago and finished second on the team with five home runs and 34 walks and third with 41 runs batted in. She also led the team in on base percentage (.482) and multiple-RBI games with 12.
Baker has been limited to just 13 games over her first two seasons in Westwood due to injuries, but has been solid during her stints in the circle, striking out 50 in just 40 innings of work in 2007 and 2008. She has applied for a medical redshirt for the 2008 season and if granted will receive another year of eligibility.
Behind every great pitcher is a great catcher and the Bruins have three backstops who can all make an impact in 2009. Senior Jennifer Schroeder started 48 of the Bruins' 60 games behind the plate last year, while junior Kaila Shull made 12 starts at catcher. The duo will be joined by freshman Dani Yudin, who was a four-time All-CIF, All-League, All-County and All-State selection at Tesoro High School in Las Flores, Calif.
"Jen did a great job as a battery mate with Jelly (Selden) in 2008 and we look for great things out of her in 2009," Inouye-Perez said. "Both Kaila and Dani are solid behind the plate. They are physically strong with great leadership qualities and work well with the pitchers. They both throw from the right side and both have beautiful swings from the left. I expect great things from both of them this year."
"Both Grace and Brooke epitomize the phrase `team over self,'" Inouye-Perez said. "They both bring great energy and enthusiasm to the team and both have very positive attitudes."
Championships are won with solid pitching and defense and the Bruin infield returns intact in 2009 after finishing 2008 first in the Pac-10 in fielding percentage. Up the middle, senior Amanda Kamekona and sophomore Monica Harrison return as one of the top second baseman-shortstop combinations in the country.
"Monica and Amanda are our backbone up the middle," Inouye-Perez said. "They work very well together. The infield as a whole has the talent and experience to challenge any offensive attack."
Kamekona not only did it with her glove, but she certainly did it with her bat, leading the Bruins in home runs (14), runs batted in (46), runs scored (47), doubles (17) and slugging percentage (.663) on her way to earning first-team All-Pac-10, second-team All-Pacific Region and third-team All-American accolades.
"Amanda is our vocal leader. She is going to leave her mark on this game in her senior year. Amanda is very dynamic and possesses great power and speed. She is like a little Manny Ramirez."
Harrison, an All-Pac-10 Freshman Team honoree, started all 55 games she appeared in at shortstop and hit .234 with 16 runs batted in and 37 hits. Her biggest hit of the season came against Arizona on May 2 when she hit a walk-off home run for her first collegiate bomb in a Bruin victory.
"The best way to describe Monica is how she leads with a quiet thunder. She is a great leader in the infield and has outstanding range, a strong arm and an impressive quick release."
At first base, both Langenfeld and sophomore GiOnna DiSalvatore will see time. When not in the circle, Langenfeld will be in the lineup at first or at designated player, while DiSalvatore will see the field not only at first, but at potentially any of the infield positions as well as right field.
"GiOnna is the ultimate utility player because she is strong, athletic and has a great knowledge of the game. I have confidence to put her at any position and know she will do an outstanding job. She truly represents a `team over self' mentality with her willingness to play wherever we need her."
DiSalvatore started at four different positions last year (first, second, third, DP) and was a first-team NFCA All-American and All-Pacific Region honoree. She was first on the team in hits with 68, second in RBI with 45, third in slugging (.532) and tied for third with a .362 average and four homers.
The Bruins lose a great team leader in Ashley Herrera at third base, but have the advantage of employing junior Julie Burney at the hot corner, who has filled in admirably when Herrera went down with injuries in 2007 and 2008, having started 95 games over the last two seasons.
"I am so impressed with the commitment Julie made to this team during the summer," Inouye-Perez said. "She is quicker, strong and enters this season with great confidence. Julie is a great leader and teammate and I look forward to seeing her compete with this year's team."
The Bruins will have a new look in the outfield in 2009. With the graduation of All-American Krista Colburn, the Bruins have recruited one of the top outfielders in the country in Andrea Harrison. The Bruins will also show their depth as Samantha Camuso will be sidelined this season after undergoing surgery for a torn labrum in her right shoulder. Camuso, a second-team All-Region and All-Pac-10 selection who started all 60 games as a freshman and led the team with a .366 batting average, will apply for a medical redshirt, looking to come back as a third-year sophomore in 2010.
"Not having Sammy is a great loss to this year's team," Inouye-Perez said. "She is an impact player. But we are fortunate to have the depth in our lineup to maintain our strength in the outfield."
DiSalvatore will be one of a quartet of players who could see time in right field. Others include sophomores Amy Crawford and Lauren Mirabal and freshman Marti Reed. Crawford appeared in 26 games as a pinch-runner last year, scoring 10 times, while Mirabal came off the bench 39 times, crossing home plate 17 times and going 8-for-8 in stolen bases to tie for the team lead. Both players are versatile, with Crawford also possibly seeing time in left and Mirabal potentially checking in at third. Reed brings even more versatility to the team, as she can play both the outfield and infield.
"Amy is very athletic and has transitioned from an infielder to an outfielder by putting in the work with (assistant coach) Gina Vecchione. She is solid on defense and can also make an impact on the bases with her speed. Lauren brings a feistiness and intensity to the team. She has speed and great instinct and loves to take advantage of any situation. She is a game changer. Marti is a valuable asset to the Bruin arsenal. She is athletic and has speed and power. Her strength comes from being able to play more than one position and having a great work ethic."
The quarterback of the outfield is sophomore Katie Schroeder, who earned All-Pac-10 honorable mention accolades after posting a .362 batting average, which tied for third on the squad. She was also tied for first in stolen bases with eight, second in multiple-hit games (19) and third in runs (34).
"Katie has a very strong will to win. She is a fierce competitor and loves to be `The One" on game days," Inouye-Perez said. "Katie has a great knowledge for the game and we will look to her to solidify and strengthen our defense up the middle."
Harrison looks to make an immediate impact in the Bruin lineup in left field and at the plate. The reigning Orange County Register Player of the Year out of Pacifica High School in Garden Grove, Calif. has the talent to be the `go to' in the lineup in her freshman year, according to Inouye-Perez.
"Andrea is a dynamic athlete who is exciting to watch. She works well with Katie in the outfield and has a strong and accurate arm. Her work ethic in the classroom is equally impressive as she made the honor roll in her first quarter as a Bruin."