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UCLA softball starts stacked season with weather setbacks

Senior utility Thessa Malau’ulu crouches as she watches the batter. (Renee Rubanowitz/Daily Bruin)

By Matthew Royer

Feb. 20, 2024 2:36 p.m.

This post was updated Feb. 21 at 9:27 p.m.

Mother Nature threw a curveball.

For the second time in two weeks, the Bruins had a game canceled because of rain, something uncommon for Westwood but not for Clearwater, Florida, the host site of the Shriners Children’s Clearwater Invitational.

Coach Kelly Inouye-Perez scheduled a 50-game season for her squad, a result of the addition of the Pac-12 tournament last year, which meant she had to front-load the schedule with back-to-back-to-back-to-back tournaments. While last week, the downpours only canceled one game for No. 19 UCLA softball (3-4) and moved games from Irvine to Easton Stadium, the story was different this week.

What was sure to be a gauntlet for UCLA, facing off against the likes of No. 5 Tennessee, No. 3 Georgia, No. 11 Florida State, North Carolina and Central Florida, was for naught. Weather canceled all but two games – Friday’s contests, in which the Maya Brady-led team defeated the Seminoles and lost to the Bulldogs.

The redshirt senior shortstop said securing the upset through teamwork while hitting was an outcome that helped build confidence, as early-season matchups fostered team chemistry and helped players understand the type of softball needed for victory.

Brady – who tallied two home runs Friday – added that she is enthused to see the team’s growth, referencing UCLA’s comeback victory against Florida State after two straight losses to end last week’s tournament.

“This is going to be a really long and challenging year, but I’m excited to see how this team is gonna rise to the occasion every weekend,” Brady said.

Inouye-Perez said last week that the team – which is in the earlier of its schedule – is in the “Unity” phase of her patented “B.R.U.I.N.” acronym system. She added that the team’s schedule will allow it to prepare for Pac-12 play, deciphering what works and what doesn’t to optimally tackle the second half of the season. Upcoming tournament trips to Cathedral City and Fullerton will be just as important to the team’s identity as Friday’s games, she said.

“We’re learning. We’re just in the beginning phases,” Inouye-Perez said. “I think the rest of the preseason is going to tell us more.”

Before the three games were canceled, senior utility Thessa Malau’ulu said while the fall preseason is dedicated to team camaraderie, the on-field experience is meant to show how the team gels while playing – something she said has clicked over the past week.

Malau’ulu, who sat out last season with an arm injury, has been a spark for the Bruins so far. The Long Beach local has started all but the season-opener against Maryland, hitting to the mark of a .308 batting average, an on-base plus slugging percentage of .900 and driving in four runs – three of which arrived Friday.

She added that her involvement with the team’s bounce-back effort was important for her start to the season, but the results in the win-loss column helped to launch the team’s collective excitement for the next phase of the schedule.

“Every single time we get on the bus, it’s a new question, it’s a new game,” Malau’ulu said. “So it’s our gel, and it’s showing up on the field too.”

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Matthew Royer | National news and higher education editor
Royer is the 2023-2024 national news and higher education editor. He is also a Sports staff writer on the men’s soccer and softball beats. He was previously the 2022-2023 city and crime editor and a contributor on the features and student life beat. He is also a fourth-year political science student minoring in labor studies from West Hills, California.
Royer is the 2023-2024 national news and higher education editor. He is also a Sports staff writer on the men’s soccer and softball beats. He was previously the 2022-2023 city and crime editor and a contributor on the features and student life beat. He is also a fourth-year political science student minoring in labor studies from West Hills, California.
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