The phrase “new faces in new places” is one way to characterize this year’s UC Santa Barbara women’s softball team.

The Gauchos get back into the swing of things today with the beginning of their season in Westwood, Calif. for the UCLA/Fullerton Freeway series. Friday’s contests begin against Nevada at 3 p.m. and then UCSB will run into #5 Oklahoma in the second installment. Saturday’s action includes a 10:30 a.m. start against Santa Clara and an afternoon contest with #14 UCLA. Santa Barbara then returns home for its Alumni game on Sunday at noon.

Former Assistant Coach Brie Galicinao has moved into the Head Coach’s position following Kristy Schroeder’s departure and the transition has been a smooth one thus far.

“Overall as a team, they’re still respectful and we communicate well with each other,” Galicinao said. “My coaching style is probably different because I’m a different person than Kristy [Schroeder]. As far as the team has been responding, I really can’t ask any more of them as long as they come out to practice, give their best effort and are responsive to any recommendations we might have.”

Besides their new coach, UCSB welcomes several new players that will provide depth in a few key areas. Freshman Utility Katie McWhirter and freshman outfielder Mary Episcopo will balance the offense given their ability to hit from the left side.

“We’re just as strong defensively and offensively as last year,” sophomore pitcher MeLinda Matsumoto said. “We did lose a couple key players, but I feel like players on our team now will fill the roles of those seniors that graduated last year.”

In the infield, freshman shortstop Jessica Beristianos joins senior catcher Ericka Hansen, sophomore first baseman Jessica Ziegler, junior second baseman Christine Ramos and senior third baseman Tisha Duran. Ramos and Duran are valuable returnees since they had the team’s top two batting averages a season ago and combined for 157 total bases.

“[Beristianos] will be going into the big position at shortstop,” Galiciano said. “But she has Ramos on her left who’s [an All-Big West] First Team [member] and a great leader and another First Teamer on her right in [Duran], so she has the support there.”

The pitching circle will see some familiar names with Matsumoto and Lindsey Correa beginning their second seasons as Gauchos. Junior hurler Tami Weston rounds out a trio that finished with a 16-7 record last year.

“[Matsumoto] actually threw a lot of our bigger defensive and offensive games, so I know that the team plays well behind her,” Galicinao said. “[Correa and Weston] have both been looking great in our scrimmaging. I don’t know who we’re going to rely on; it might be pitching by committee. It just depends on who’s going to perform out there.”

After two tough losses in last year’s NCAA Regionals, the players have been anticipating this 2008 debut for a long time.

“Everybody’s been working hard,” Galicinao said. “We have a lot of the experienced players coming back and a lot of new talent stepping up. I’m just really proud of how they’ve been working in practice. I think they’re a very motivated team right now. I’m just excited for us to start playing.”