By Todd Wolfson
Staff Writer

The grass has grown in, the baselines have been marked, and the 2004 UCSB softball team is prepared for its upcoming season.
After last year’s disappointing loss to Cal State Fullerton to end the Gauchos run at a championship, a new breed of freshman are trying to take on the challenge of bringing the Big West title back to Santa Barbara. Eight of the 18 roster spots this season will are filled by freshman, which makes this season one of the strongest recruiting classes in Gaucho softball history.
UCSB Head Coach Kristy Schroeder feels her team can come away with a Big West Championship and that the hard work and dedication the team put into this offseason will definitely show on the field.
“We have an opportunity to win the Big West Conference and to make it to postseason,” Schroeder said. “Those are our top two goals, and we’re just going to be working the process and try to get there.”
Despite losses of star players like Jamie Trinidad, who was the first ever UCSB softball player named a First Team All-American, and Chantal Pershing, who was the team MVP last season, Schroeder feels confident these spots can be filled.
“I think we have picked up some players who can get the home runs for us, but we will see if we can get the consistency at the plate,” she said. “Both of our stars’ spots from last year will be hard to fill, and they will be missed.”
Pitching has been the Gauchos strength this season and will hope to be a force again this year. Freshmen Jennifer Davis and Lindsey Sommer will be called upon to handle a heavy load of pitching but are fully capable of the job.
“I think we have a lot of depth,” Schroeder said. “Right now we have two freshmen pitchers and two returning pitchers. We should be pretty strong because we have a lot to call on.”
Hitting will also be a hard gap to fill this season, and the Gauchos feel they will take each game one at-bat at a time. To lead things off for Santa Barbara is senior outfielder Leslie Simien, who is speedy and can steal many bases. Though very young, the Gauchos feel that their hitting will be satisfactory and softball fans will still see many home runs.
“We’re a new team, and we have a lot of new freshmen coming in. We look pretty strong through the practices that we had, but overall I feel we will do really well this season,” freshman outfielder Jessica Hejna said. “We have very strong hitters this year who have lots of power, and this year we will really show our power at the plate.”
Defensively, Santa Barbara feels it is the best team in the Big West, with a major emphasis on speed and efficiency. The Gauchos feel if they can rely on the pitchers to force ground balls at the infield, their defensive talents can handle the rest. The outfield is strong as well, with both Simien and the quick and versatile senior Davis Beck on the defensive side of things. The Santa Barbara bench is also very deep and Schroeder will turn to it many times this season for support in close games.
“I think we have a lot of depth. Right now we have two freshmen pitchers and two returning pitchers, we should be pretty strong because we have a lot to call on,” Schroeder said. “We have a lot of young talented players, and we probably could be starting seven new players who didn’t play last year. I think we are strong defensively, and we have a lot of depth as far as the plate goes.”
The goal of this season is to win the Big West and compete in the playoffs. With a tough conference, containing dynamic Long Beach State and Northridge squads, the Gauchos will have to overcome some obstacles.
The Gauchos will enter a tournament at UCSB this weekend, playing a variety of teams, which will give the Gauchos a real preview on how the team will look this season.