Today, the UCLA softball team will begin pursuit of its 13th national championship in a tournament named after the woman who helped earn three of them.
The Bruins will open their season this weekend with the Stacy Winsberg Memorial Tournament, squaring off against Wright State at 4:30 p.m. in the first game of a doubleheader. The Bruins will then take on No. 17 Texas A&M Aggies at 7 p.m.
What exactly these Bruins will look like remains a mystery. It’s been nine months since UCLA last took the field for a game, a 2-1 loss in regional play to Florida State that brought to an end a season marred by frustration and inconsistency. The 2012 UCLA team fielded four All-Americans, but was unable to translate that talent into more wins.
“We led the nation offensively but it didn’t matter … we just weren’t able to manufacture runs at the end,” said coach Kelly Inouye-Perez.
Gone are All-Americans Katie Schroeder, Andrea Harrison and Samantha Camuso. Dani Yudin, who started 55 games last season, also graduated, and last year’s starting shortstop Kellie Fox transferred to Arizona in January.
UCLA enters the season ranked No. 19 (USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association), low for a squad that is often considered a contender for the national championship. If anything, the ranking reflects the uncertainty surrounding the identity of this team. However, the Bruins have chosen not to focus on rankings, electing to define who they are by their play.
“I don’t care about rankings. Rankings have nothing to do with our play, they don’t change a thing at all … We don’t want anything given to us, just because the name says ‘UCLA.’ We want to earn it and prove to people that we’re the same organization that we’ve always been,” said junior pitcher Jessica Hall.
Perhaps some indication of the type of team Inouye-Perez has came off the diamond this offseason, when the Bruins took their conditioning tests.
“We did not finish the way we wanted to last year and … one of the things we really wanted to focus on was work ethic. The fall-returners came in and killed their conditioning test and … the freshmen passed their cardio test as well. The returning players started it and the freshmen joined the culture that we’re here to work,” Inouye-Perez said.
Nine months removed from a disappointing end, the new-look Bruins said that they are excited to turn the page, ready to start a new season and put that hard work to use.
Count sophomore shortstop Stephany LaRosa, whose freshman campaign served as one of the highlights of the 2012 season, as one of those excited to see how the Bruins stack up against the rest of the teams in the nation.
“We’re pumped. Everyone is pumped and everyone is excited. Don’t look at last year, because we are coming for them,” LaRosa said.
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