This post was updated Feb. 24 at 12:28 a.m.
The Bruins will return to California as the top-ranked team in the nation.
No. 1 UCLA softball (11-0) will travel to Cathedral City, California, to compete in the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic, playing against Texas A&M (10-3) on Friday, Wisconsin (6-3) and No. 9 Florida (12-1) on Saturday and Auburn (8-4) on Sunday. The Bruins will also play an exhibition game against the U.S. Olympic Softball Team on Sunday.
Assistant coach Kirk Walker said these early season tournaments provide value that conference play can’t.
“When we get into conference, we’re going to be facing really tough teams, but it’s only in our conference,” Walker said. “This is a great opportunity to gauge where we are and measure us against where we are across the country.”
The Bruins are coming off a tournament sweep of the St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational that featured three wins against ranked teams and two mercy-rule victories over unranked teams. After the victories, UCLA jumped from No. 3 in the polls to No. 1.
Sophomore pitcher Megan Faraimo – who was the winning pitcher in all three of the ranked matchups – pitched a complete seven innings in each game while allowing only three earned runs to go along with 25 strikeouts.
Faraimo was named the Wilson/NFCA Pitcher of the Week for her performances.
“All the teams we faced are all really good opponents and we have to do our best always,” Faraimo said. “When I’m pitching on the mound, I’m just trying to do whatever I can to get us back in the dugout and score some more runs.”
This weekend’s games will mark the 14th straight season that UCLA will play in the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic.
The tournament field will have some familiar faces for the Bruins, as they have played three of their four opponents in the Women’s College World Series within the last four years, with the Badgers being the lone exception.
UCLA has all-time winning records versus Florida, Texas A&M and Wisconsin, but has yet to pick up a win against Auburn. The Bruins lost to the Tigers in the WCWS both in 2015 and 2016.
Redshirt junior outfielder Aaliyah Jordan said this familiarity will give UCLA a leg up heading into the weekend.
“Being able to play them in the past and having film on them for this coming week is really going to help us a lot,” Jordan said. “Knowing their pitchers’ tendencies and patterns will definitely help us have an advantage on them.”
Florida will be the only ranked team UCLA will face this weekend
In two matchups against the Gators last season, the Bruins emerged victorious both times by a combined margin of 11-1. Jordan is the only current UCLA player to drive in runs during those two games, going 2-for-7 with two RBIs.
Jordan – who has RBIs in each of the last five games for the Bruins – was named the Louisville Slugger/NFCA Player of the Week as well as UCLA Student-Athlete of the Week.
“It’s just nice to see that I am getting recognized for all my hard work and (helping) my team get to that number one spot,” Jordan said.
While Florida is the only ranked team UCLA will face, both Auburn and Wisconsin received votes to be in the top-25.
The Tigers and the Badgers combine to average 5.0 runs per game. The Bruins’ 1.15 earned run average ranks 13th in the country.
“Our game is really centered around what happens in the circle,” Walker said. “We’re confident that we have a great pitching staff that can be competitive with them.”
The Bruins will see two particularly familiar faces when they take on the U.S. Olympic Softball Team, which features redshirt senior pitcher Rachel Garcia and senior utility Bubba Nickles – two Bruins who are currently using a redshirt year in order to train for the Olympics.
UCLA will open the tournament at 5:30 p.m. Friday against Texas A&M.