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Since Brie Galicinao took the helm of the UCSB softball team, the program has gone nowhere but up.
This season, the Gauchos came the closest they have ever come to winning a Big West Championship. Finishing the season at 34-20 overall and 14-7 in conference, Santa Barbara failed to earn its first conference crown by just one game, a game in which Long Beach State needed nine innings to hold off UCSB.
“It was so close. It’s still something to be proud of, but now we want more,” Galicinao said. “I think everybody’s motivated and we have a lot of returners to make that happen. We want to hold onto all the good things that happened this year and build on that.”
Despite the heartbreaking ending to this season, next year for the Gauchos looks bright as Santa Barbara is set to return 15 of its 19 players. UCSB will, however, need to fill the shoes of two starters: All-Big West first team member Kathryn Pilpil and All-Big West honorable mention selection Lauren Boser.
“They stepped up this year and stepped into leadership roles. They created an atmosphere where this team could perform and could focus on the right things,” Galicinao said. “The way this group came together and played for each other, I’ve been here for nine years and this year was definitely special and different.”
To fill the voids and hopefully create an even better team for next season, Galicinao brings in four recruits to Santa Barbara next season.
The first is Jessica Johnston from Studio City, CA. Johnston is a lefty outfielder who was the captain of her squad at Harvard-Westlake High School.
In her senior year, Johnston batted .474 and tallied nine doubles. In addition, during her three years on the varsity squad, she recorded a .464 on-base percentage.
“We’re always trying to bring in well-rounded athletes,” Galicinao said. “[Jessica] hits from the left side and hits for power. She has a good arm as well.”
Coming to Santa Barbara from Norwalk, CA, Samantha Lujan has the potential to play catcher or the corners for UCSB. In her first three years at Norwalk High School, Lujan owned a .358 batting average and a .403 on-base percentage.
The Gauchos’ third incoming freshman next season is a right-handed pitcher, Lena Mayer. Originally from Berkeley, CA, Mayer earned a 1.74 ERA her senior year at Berkeley High School. Offensively, she held a .427 batting average during her four years, including a .438 average her senior year, while holding a .526 on-base percentage in her final season.
“We have a pitcher coming in who has good velocity and throws the down ball,” Galicinao said. “She’s similar to [senior Andriana Collins], except AC is left-handed.”
The final recruit for Santa Barbara for 2014 is utility Kayla Sisson, who was ranked the sixth-best high school player in Nevada. Coming to Santa Barbara from Tahoe City, CA, Sisson played with the Lady Magic travel team in Sacramento. However, playing for Reno High School, she tallied a .402 slugging percentage and a .326 on-base percentage her senior year.
These four freshman will join a talented group of Gauchos this season, including Big West Freshman of the Year Kristen Clark, All-Big West first team member Shelby Wisdom, second team-member MeShalon Moore and honorable mention selection Emily Brucelas.
According to Galicinao, this group could be an extremely dangerous offensive team as these recruits add even more offense to the lineup. This season, UCSB ranked toward the top in nearly every offensive category.
“There were some games (this year) where we were shut down and I think there will be less of those because a lot of our high performers are going to be back,” Galicinao said. “They’re going to be older and they’ll be stronger. I think you’re going to see a smarter offensive team and a team that continues to rally off of each other.”
A version of this article appeared on page 6 of May 22, 2014′s print edition of the Daily Nexus.
Photo by Dustin Harris of the Daily Nexus.