Feb. 7, 2011
In a three-part season preview starting Monday, UCLABruins.com focuses on the pitchers and catchers for the 2011 campaign. The season preview continues Tuesday with the infielders and concludes Wednesday with the outfielders.
The journey of the 2010 UCLA season ended in Oklahoma City with the Bruins' hoisting their 12th national championship trophy. It was a year full of ups and downs, but culminated in yet another title banner that hangs at Easton Stadium. However the start of a new softball season brings a new beginning, putting last year's memories in the rear view mirror.
The Bruins used the memory and guiding principles of John Wooden during their championship run a year ago. But as the legendary coach would say, and echoed by fifth-year head coach Kelly Inouye-Perez, "Yesterday is as old as dirt and tomorrow you have no control over."
"Our championship last year was a great one, but it is history now," Inouye-Perez said. "In 2010, we never looked ahead to the next day and that is our goal again this year. We are focused on being great day-to-day and that's the approach we have taken all the way back from Fall to the preseason and on into season so we can be at our best at the end."
The Bruins' respect for the game is what helped them to a championship in 2010 and what will help them attempt to repeat in 2011. "Everybody we play we have a great deal of respect for. The only thing we have control over is how hard we play innings one through seven. We have new faces and a new chemistry this year and our goal is to sharpen that every day so we can be at our best at the end. We are excited for this season's journey to start."
The Bruins lost one of the heart and souls of their program in the graduation of Megan Langenfeld, a leader at both the plate and in the circle. But despite her loss, UCLA does return its strikeout, wins and ERA leaders from a year ago.
Senior Donna Kerr paced the Bruins with 18 wins and 185 strikeouts in a team-best 150 1/3 innings over 30 starts. The workhorse was named All-Pacific-10 Conference honorable mention a year ago and ranked 38th nationally in strikeouts per seven innings and 39th in fewest hits allowed per seven. Kerr pitched the final out of the National Championship clinching game last June against Arizona and the Bruins will rely on the experience gained in Oklahoma City in her final year in Westwood.
"I'm really excited to see how Donna is going to finish up her career," Inouye-Perez said. "She has gained a great deal of experience over the last three years. Donna is a pitcher that is used to winning. She has won at every level and that experience is something that can help any pitcher. She is very focused and determined to do whatever it takes to help this year's team."
Another pitcher who gained valuable experience in the 2010 postseason was Aleah Macon, who went 5-0 with 34 strikeouts in 28 innings. She started the Women's College World Series opener against Florida, and in what would be a great trivia question for UCLA softball fans, recorded both wins in the WCWS Finals against Arizona. Macon led the Bruins with a 1.50 earned run average, posting a 13-1 record and 109 strikeouts in 88 2/3 innings.
"We are very fortunate to have a great amount of depth in the circle on this year's team," Inouye-Perez said. "Aleah is very strong and athletic and is known for her power pitching, which is complimented by a great change. Now that she has experienced a year here at UCLA, she is ready to get stronger and take her game to the next level. Any time you are a hitter and face a pitcher like Aleah, you immediately get put on the defensive because of her speed."
"Aleah, as a power pitcher, does a great job of complimenting Donna, who is known for her movement and changing of speeds."
Also returning for the Bruins is sophomore Destiny Rodino, who went 2-1 in eight appearances as a freshman. "Destiny is a great competitor," Inouye-Perez said. "She has done a great job of complimenting the pitching staff with a great team over self attitude. She always works hard in practice and brings that lefty dimension of being able to throw the timing off of hitters. Destiny works very well with the rest of the pitching staff to do whatever it takes to help the team."
Entering her first season as a Bruin is freshman lefty Jessica Hall, who will be able to impact the Bruins in a variety of ways in the circle, at the plate and at first base. Hall was named California's Gatorade Player of the Year and Los Angeles Times POY after going 28-3 with a 0.68 ERA and 336 strikeouts in 204 2/3 innings during her senior campaign at Ayala High School in Chino Hills, Calif.
"The day Jessica committed to being a Bruin was a great day for UCLA softball," Inouye-Perez said. "She's going to be able to impact the lineup in so many areas. There were high expectations for her last year and she did a great job of handling the pressure and finishing her high school career strong. She's explosive and has a great presence. I'm looking for her to contribute right away."
Yudin was named All-Pac-10 honorable mention in 2010 after finishing fourth on the squad with a .336 batting average to go along with nine home runs and 26 runs batted in. She was second on the club in on base percentage (.471) and walks (29), including a team-best seven free passes during the WCWS. She appeared in only three games behind the plate a year ago, but with the departure of All-Pac-10 player Kaila Shull, will see increased playing time behind the dish along with time at first base where she started 22 contests last year.
"It was very exciting to see Dani contribute to the lineup last season," Inouye-Perez said. "She came through when people ahead of her in the lineup were being pitched around, especially with quality two-strike at-bats. Behind the plate, she is a confident leader. Dani does a great job of working with the pitchers and controlling the game. I'll rely on her to bring her experience behind the plate in helping this year's staff."
Tiumalu was a standout player at Pleasant Grove High School in Elk Grove, Calif., earning Under Armour and ESPN Rise All-American honors as a senior. She led all Delta River League players with 43 RBI, earning league co-MVP accolades, to go along with seven home runs and a .450 batting average. Despite her 5-foot-4 frame, Inouye-Perez says she is very strong behind the plate and at the dish as well.
"Alyssa has solid mechanics and a strong arm. She has done a great job of getting to know the pitching staff. She is also going to make an impact right away at the plate. She swings a big stick. Her size is deceptive, because she is a very strong and powerful girl."
Junior Brooke Finley is also a big reason for the Bruins' success, and while she has not seen time on the field in her two years at UCLA, her dedication towards the team does not go unnoticed in the clubhouse.
"Brooke is our MVP in the bullpen," Inouye-Perez said. "She knows all the pitchers and helps them get one percent better every day. She gives us great input on how they are doing and is someone that gives 100 percent in our team over self mentality. Brooke comes to practice every day determining how she is going to make her teammates better and that has been a big part of our success."