SANTA BARBARA, Calif. – Following one of the best seasons in UC Santa Barbara softball history, the Gauchos kick off their 2013 campaign this Thursday with a trip to Louisiana for the Mardi Gras Classic.
The team is eager to start playing again after last season's strong finish. The Gauchos ended the year amidst a seven-game winning streak in a gritty battle with rival Long Beach State for the Big West Conference title, capping it with a sweep of Cal State Northridge. However, Long Beach State's series win over Pacific cut short the Gauchos' hot pursuit for its first league crown and a subsequent birth to their first NCAA tournament since 2007.
"The goal is always to finish with a Big West championship," Galicinao said. "And this year, it's the same."
Galicinao earned the Big West Conference Coach of the Year honor for the second time in her career last season, becoming the first ever UCSB coach to do so. She seemed impressed with the overall commitment from the team this past offseason.
"All of the players have improved in some way since last year, whether physically or in their maturity," Galicinao said.
The team's 15-6 conference mark was its best league finish in program history, and its 30-28 overall record marked the program's fourth winning season with Galicinao at the helm.
"The main goal going into season is to compete," Galicinao said. "We have a smaller roster of healthy players for our pre-conference schedule and we'll need every single person in the program, especially now, to compete and commit to being excellent in everything that they do."
The Gauchos' season end saw the departure of seniors Krista Cobb, Lainey DePompa, Jenny Liepman, Brooke Putich and Allison Taylor, leaving behind a young batch of talent.
"I expect our seniors Jessica Soria and Keilani Jennings to provide good leadership for our team," Galicinao said. "They play big roles on the field in centerfield and leadoff batter and shortstop and power hitter. They've done a great job in practices and I'm looking forward to seeing them continue to be good examples for their younger teammates."
Soria was named to the All-Big West First team last season, while hitting for a .291 average, and led the team in hits (58), runs (29) and stolen bases (25). She topped the league in stolen bases, ranked third in hits, eighth in runs and fifth in triples (2). Joining her in the outfield are freshman Arianna Palomares and junior McKenzie Kane, who is coming off of a .309 batting season in 2012, during which she compiled a 14-game hitting streak.
Jennings garnered an All-Big West Honorable Mention playing shortstop last season along with seniors Lainey DePompa and Allison Taylor. Also earning the award were sophomore second baseman Kathryn Pilpil and freshman infielder Jenessa Jeppesen. Jeppesen will be out for the beginning of the season due to injury along with sophomore DeJanee Moore, who played in 54 games during her rookie campaign.
One of the players filling in at the utility slot will be freshman Jessica Tetzlaff, and junior transfer Jessica Reichner will start at third base in Moore's absence. On the other side of the diamond, junior Lauren Boser returns to start at first base for UCSB while providing a big bat for them on offense.
The Gauchos' pitcher-catcher combinations are an especially young crop, but the return of a strong pitching staff gives the team a confident outlook on the next couple of seasons.
"We have our eldest member in the bullpen, junior Andriana Collins, and returning Big West Freshman of the Year, Shelby Wisdom, stepping into leadership roles in the bullpen, since five of the seven members of the battery are freshmen," said Galicinao.
Wisdom was named to the All-Big West First Team during her Freshman of the Year campaign in which she established herself as a threat at both the plate and in the circle. She hit .271 with five home runs, 19 runs and 22 RBI at the plate. In league games, she hit a phenomenal .417 with nine runs, 15 RBI and a .646 slugging percentage.
Wisdom was dominant in the circle as well, leading the league in wins (24), innings pitched (266.2), games started (37) and appearances (50). She'll be a huge asset for the Gauchos going into the 2013 season as they face some new competition.
Collins, who posted a 3.70 ERA with 71 strikeouts lasts season, joins Wisdom on the pitching staff with freshmen Ashley Ludlow and Alex Pingree. Freshmen catchers Mariesa Davies, MeShalon Moore and Samantha Stark will compete for time behind the plate after Depompa's departure last year.
One of the new teams the Gauchos will face this season will be No. 23 ranked Hawai'i, the newest addition to the Big West Conference.
The Rainbow Wahine were recently slated to win the Big West in the annual preseason poll conducted by the nine head coaches, as they garnered four first-place votes and 76 points overall to edge out Long Beach State. UCSB amassed 54 points for fourth place in the poll, just finishing ahead of fifth-place UC Davis. The Gauchos fly to Honolulu for the series on May 3 to take on the Rainbow Wahine in what should be an exciting showdown.
In the meantime, the team is focusing on building an identity by being focused and prepared to start out the season. Galicinao is most excited to come out strong at home for the first time in the Gaucho Classic I on February 15.
"It's opening weekend on Campus Diamond and we host Missouri – a team that went to the Women's College World Series last season – Fresno State – a top contender in the WAC – and University of San Diego – a team that has given us trouble at home last few years," said Galicinao.
When asked what will be needed to accomplish this year's goals, Galicinao highlighted everyone's high level of commitment.
"Once season starts this weekend, it'll be a fast and exciting journey until the last regular season game in May," said Galicinao. "The two main words the team is focusing on this season are excellence and resilience. We'll need everyone committed to the process of being excellent in the small things every day, and during game time, just competing and adjusting to whatever's thrown at them."
The 2013 season looks to be yet another one for the UCSB record books under experienced coaching and ripe talent.
The Gauchos will open the season against Grambling on Thursday, Feb. 7 at 2 pm at the Mardi Gras Classic being hosted by Louisiana Monore. UCSB will also face Wichita State, Louisiana Monroe, Northwestern State, Mississippi Valley State and Southeast Missouri State during the four-day tournament.
For the complete 2013 UCSB softball schedule, click here.