By Harry Berezin and Chris Trenchard

Staff Writers

The UCSB softball team has undergone a dramatic transformation over the past two years.

This team rebounded from a last-place season in 2000-01 to blossoming into one of the most dangerous teams in the Big West Conference.

This team is built on a good attitude, solid work ethic and a never-say-die mentality. No one exemplifies the spirit of Santa Barbara better than junior second baseman E.J. Lauchland.

After earning Big West Second Team honors in 2001, Lauchland missed all of last year after doctors performed surgery to remove a tumor from one of her ovaries. But she has roared back onto the diamond this year, batting .329 while driving in 26 RBIs.

Lauchland has also showcased her versatility, playing at second base and in the outfield while posting a crisp .973 fielding percentage. But her value to the team as a role model is just as important. Known affectionately by her teammates as “Schmemmy,” Lauchland has embraced her leadership role.

“E.J.’s just a great player,” UCSB Assistant Coach Kristi Bredbenner said. “She has a great attitude, willing to adapt to any situation. She can play a number of positions, and she hustles all the time. And this year, she’s really been coming up clutch for us [at the plate]. But regardless of the positive things Lauchland does on the field, she’s just happy to be out there at all.”

“I really enjoy playing with the team this year instead of sitting and watching,” Lauchland said. “Last year, I had a tumor the size of a grapefruit, and [the doctors] didn’t know I had it until I went in for surgery. I was out for about eight weeks and that was pretty much the extent of the season.”

Even during this trying time, Lauchland did not neglect her responsibilities to her teammates.

“I was voted a captain before my injury,” Lauchland said. “And I still tried to fulfill the role of being captain. It was hard not being out on the field, but I tried to lead by example in practice.”

Lauchland practiced everyday even though she was on a medical redshirt and couldn’t play. This display of selflessness endeared her to her teammates.

“She’s always been a good example,” said freshman pitcher Carly Harmon, who also was on Lauchland’s high school team growing up in Lodi, Calif. “She’s more of a sister to me than anything. If I ever needed anything, advice, she was there. It was hard for her [last year]. It was a frustrating time. But I know she was still a big help for the team.”

Not lost on UCSB Head Coach Kristy Schroeder amid this feel-good story are Lauchland’s on-field contributions for the Gauchos this year.

“Her offense is valuable to this team,” Schroeder said. “She can slap or hit away. She’s very versatile. She’s been hitting with a little more power recently. And she always has a quality at-bat.”

Schroeder also praised Lauchland’s on-field attitude.

“She’s the type of player who leads on the field,” she said. “Most of the time when she hits, we do well. E.J. looks like a girly-girl on the outside, but she is quite the competitor on the inside.”

In many ways, E.J. Lauchland is a microcosm of this Gaucho team. She went through a tough ordeal but has used the experience as motivation to catapult herself to bigger and better things. Coming off a series loss last weekend at Cal Poly, her teammates don’t have to look very far for inspiration to come back stronger for the rest of the season.