The Gauchos will hope to accumulate plenty of worms this weekend.
The UCSB softball team may not fishing aficionadas, but will host the UCSB Early Bird Tournament at Campus Diamond, squaring off against Illinois-Chicago, Santa Clara and Long Beach State.
Santa Barbara begins its season with unprecedented depth and expectations this morning at 8 against Illinois-Chicago, a team that has reached the NCAA Regionals in each of the last five seasons. Last year, Santa Barbara managed a 7-3 upset over the eventual Horizon League Champions in the young season.
“It is always nice to get off to a good start to build confidence,” UCSB Head Coach Kristy Schroeder said. “However, games earlier on in the year are also great to prepare for conference and determine what things we need to work on. It is more important where we end up at the end of the season.”
The Gauchos went on to finish last year at 27-36.
“I think it sets a precedent for the rest of the season if we do well,” senior catcher Jami Trinidad said. “Since I’ve been here we’ve always done well the first couple of weeks. I think that our main issue is staying strong throughout the whole season.”
In the second leg of today’s doubleheader, the Gauchos face Santa Clara, members of the new Pacific Coast Softball Conference at around 10:15 a.m. Highly touted freshman pitcher Carly Harmon will make her first career start. Last year the Gauchos split the season series with the Broncos.
“Having all the other teams look at us and see how strong we are is important,” senior outfielder Natalie Adame said. “Trying to intimidate other teams for the season is a big thing for us because we’re just starting here.”
In perhaps the most intriguing contest of the Early Bird, UCSB will get a test drive against Big West rivals LBSU on Saturday at 8 a.m. The 49ers finished third last season in the Big West and return 12 players. Long Beach is slated to remain in third place.
“They’ve always had a really good team. I feel like we have a rivalry now with them. I have a lot of respect for them,” Trinidad said. “It will be good to see them before conference [play begins], to see what they have and to find out what we need to do.”
Junior outfielder E.J. Lauchland put expectations of handling LBSU bluntly.
“We expect to beat them, that’s what we expect,” Lauchland said.
The Gauchos will round out the Early Bird against Santa Clara Saturday at 2:45 p.m. and Illinois-Chicago on Sunday at 10:15 p.m.