Coming into the 2013 season, the UCLA softball team started out ranked No. 19 in the nation, relatively new territory for a team that has won the most national titles in the sport’s NCAA history.
One factor contributing to the ranking is the Bruins’ completely retooled infield this season.
When last year’s starting shortstop Kellie Fox transferred to Arizona in January for undisclosed reasons, it left a hole in the middle of the infield that needed to be filled.
Conveniently, last year’s starting third baseman Stephany LaRosa played shortstop throughout her high school career.
“I grew up my entire life playing short. It wasn’t too hard to get back into it,” said LaRosa, now a sophomore. “Taking a year off and focusing on third and then coming back to short, there was a little bit of a challenge but I’m working with it.”
Amid all of the change, coach Kelly Inouye-Perez praised LaRosa’s steady leadership at shortstop.
“She’s been a quarterback, she’s been the leader. Everyone expects great things from her offensively and she will (hit).
“But the most valuable part of where she is right now is she’s keeping this infield and the defense together,” Inouye-Perez said.
“There’s a great deal of confidence, so we don’t skip a beat with the new communication factor, because she’s just been a great, solid leader and that’s something I expect from her all year.”
With LaRosa vacating her spot at third, the Bruins needed to find a new glove at the hot corner.
They have found it in freshman Mysha Sataraka.
Not only has she taken over the starting job at third base, but she has also dealt with the pressure of being a freshman in a prominent role.
“It’s definitely a challenge and knowing what has come before you and what the expectations (are) of this program,” Sataraka said. “I accept the challenge and I know my teammates always got my back.”
Her coach is very confident that Sataraka will live up to that challenge.
“I think she’s going to do great things at third base. It’s a hot corner; it’s not easy to play,” Inouye-Perez said.
“She plays it with great confidence, so I’m excited she’s going to come in and fill a spot very quickly.”
Junior Talee Snow was the incumbent second baseman, but has yet to be cleared to play this season due to a shoulder injury.
Snow’s return from injury remains unknown, which has provided an opportunity for Georgia sophomore transfer Gracie Goulder to step in as the starter.
“They said they were going to look at me in the outfield, first base, (and) second base,” Goulder said. “I’ve never played second.
“I just figured I would work my butt off and see what happened.”
The sophomore is hitting .500 with one home run and two runs batted in the first four games of the season and has made some highlight plays with the glove, making her case to keep the starting spot.
Coach Inouye-Perez said they are currently not worrying about that and will make a decision when Snow is able to return to action.
First base has been a revolving door for the Bruins thus far, with sophomore Ally Carda, freshman Brittany Moeai and junior Alyssa Tiumalu all seeing action at the position through the team’s first four games.
Despite all of the shuffling and changes, the coach is encouraged by the defense that she has seen from her new infield thus far.
“This is a really new look, I have literally a brand new infield,” Inouye-Perez said. “Everybody is out there for the first time and I give them a lot of credit because you wouldn’t really notice that that was the case.”
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