The UCSB softball team, off to a blazing 9-1 start, can thank the speedy legs of Leslie Simien for the Gauchos’ success.

The junior right fielder from Laguna Hills set a UCSB record for career stolen bases last weekend at the Cal Poly Mustang Roundup, passing Joann Saul’s mark of 57 from 1984-1987. With 61 career steals, Simien has established herself as a prototype leadoff hitter with enough speed to consistently beat out groundballs.

“Leslie should really just start at second base [once she gets to first base],” senior second baseman E.J. Lauchland said. “It’s basically a guaranteed run once she gets on.”

UCSB Head Coach Kristy Schroeder agreed with Lauchland’s assessment.

“She’s gonna score once she gets on, guaranteed,” Schroeder said. “She’s obviously got phenomenal speed. She’s a great leadoff hitter with her ability to bunt, drag bunt and slap the ball around. On the base paths she gets great jumps and makes our opponents rush defensively. It’s nice to have a player like Simien who can make something happen.”

For Simien, terrorizing opposing teams is nothing new. Simien first stepped onto the diamond at 8 years old and has been running wild ever since.

“Once I get on, it’s pretty much a given that I’ll get the sign to steal,” Simien said. “The presence of speed makes people make mistakes. I try to take advantage.”

Although speed remains her strongest asset, Simien realizes that it takes more than gazelle legs to make a good versatile softball player.

“You’ve got to have skills at batting and fielding in order to play this game,” Simien said. “But speed helps your ability to get on base. It gives you better range in the outfield. It helps your all-around game.”

Although her natural quickness distinguishes her from her teammates, Simien embraces the emphasis on team goals and is indifferent to the records that she has already shattered at UCSB.

“It’s always up to Coach whether or not I steal,” Simien said. “She knows when it’s best for the team. As far as the record, I didn’t think of it. All of a sudden they announced it [on the public address]. Then they said, ‘Just kidding, she didn’t.’ They were a little confused. That made me feel kinda weird.”

Simien tied the record against Illinois-Chicago on Feb. 2 in the final game of the Early Bird Tournament at Campus Diamond. The junior broke the steals mark against Nevada last Saturday in the Cal Poly Mustang Roundup.

The Gauchos will need a strong effort from Simien this weekend when they face Oregon, New Mexico, Kansas, Sacramento State and Central Florida in the San Diego State Campbell/Cartier Classic in Poway.

UCSB will also get the chance to avenge its only loss of the season on Saturday against Sacramento State. The Hornets defeated the Gauchos in two pivotal games at the end of last season.

In last Friday’s loss to Sacramento State, Simien failed to reach base, proving her importance to the overall team’s fortunes. Simien’s ability to get on base is a huge advantage for a Gaucho team still trying to prove that it belongs in the upper echelons of college softball.

On Friday, UCSB will face Oregon at 10 a.m., followed by New Mexico at 3. Saturday’s doubleheader features Kansas at 12:30 p.m. and Sacramento State at 8. Sunday’s game against Central Florida is at 9 a.m.