Softball adjusts to changes in roster as 2020 season starts
Sophomore outfielder Kelli Godin led No. 4 UCLA softball with a .418 batting average last season. UCLA will open its 2020 campaign this weekend by hosting the Stacy Winsberg Memorial Tournament, starting with a game versus CSU Bakersfield on Thursday night. (Ashley Kenney/Daily Bruin)
By Coral Smith
Feb. 6, 2020 1:16 a.m.
The roster may be different, but coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said this year’s Bruin team has the same goal as last year.
“Our goal is to be the last team standing,” Inouye-Perez said. “Every year, it’s an exciting new dynamic of how we pull together, add the freshmen, but the expectations are always the same.”
No. 4 UCLA softball will open up its 2020 campaign this weekend by hosting the Stacy Winsberg Memorial Tournament from Thursday to Sunday. The Bruins will return to Easton Stadium as the reigning NCAA champions after going 56-6 over the course of the 2019 season, finishing it off by sweeping then-No. 1 seed Oklahoma in the Women’s College World Series championship series to win the program’s 12th NCAA title.
But in the time since the Bruins were crowned NCAA champions, the UCLA roster has undergone multiple changes – most notably the losses of redshirt senior pitcher Rachel Garcia and senior utility Bubba Nickles. Both players will utilize a redshirt year in order to play for the US National Team at the 2020 Tokyo Olympics this summer.
“It completely changes the dynamic. They were very impactful players, but the best part about it is that we look at it as a great opportunity for different players to step up,” Inouye-Perez said. “For example, (sophomore pitcher Megan Faraimo) is somebody who got to tag-team with (Garcia) last year, and now the opportunity is there for her to step up and be the one.”
In total, six of the 10 players who saw time in 32 or more games last season will not return this spring.
“Every team loses players each year, and we lost some key ones, but it creates an opportunity for more people to step up, especially some freshmen,” said sophomore outfielder Kelli Godin. “But every team goes through it, and I think we’ll be good.”
One such area where new players will have to step up is behind the plate. Both of last year’s primary catchers – Paige Halstead and Colleen Sullivan – are no longer on the roster, as Halstead graduated last spring and Sullivan transferred to Texas in the offseason.
To fill that gap, UCLA has added graduate transfer catcher/utility Jenavee Peres and two freshmen, Sara Rusconi Vicinanza and Alyssa Garcia. Junior pitcher Holly Azevedo said this transition has been relatively smooth, however, and the freshmen especially have proven themselves to be more than capable of taking on the role.
“Every year you have to adjust when seniors leave, especially with a class like that,” Azevedo said. “The freshmen have been a great addition, and … I don’t think there’s been a huge difference. Although they’re younger, I think they’re skilled, and I have confidence they’ll get the job done.”
And the new players will also have a chance to make themselves known early in the season, as Inouye-Perez said she expects most of the freshmen to see time in at least one of this weekend’s six games.
“They’ll be getting a lot of time. That was one thing we walked away from the fall feeling very confident about – that we’d create athletes that are talented and versatile and are willing to do whatever they can for the team,” Inouye-Perez said. “There’s a lot of them, and they bring speed, they bring power, they bring versatility.”
The players who are returning are also set to form a solid veteran base for UCLA’s lineup, as all four of the returning Bruin starters had batting averages of at least .320 last season – led by Godin, who was tops on the team and in the Pac-12 with a .418 average.
UCLA will begin this weekend’s tournament with a Thursday night matchup versus CSU Bakersfield. Later in the weekend, UCLA will also host Cal Poly, Pittsburgh and San Diego. While the Bruins have recent history with the Roadrunners, Mustangs and Toreros – accumulating a combined 47-3 record – this will be just their second all-time meeting with the Panthers.
Thursday’s season opener will begin at 7 p.m. at Easton Stadium.