The UCSB softball team will take a trip down to Tempe, Arizona this week to begin the 2012 season at the Kajikawa Classic hosted by Arizona State. The Gauchos will be tested starting Thursday, playing six teams in four days, including three teams ranked in the top 25 of the nation.

“We’ll get to test our offense against some of the best pitching and test our defense against some of the fastest offenses and strongest hitting,” Head Coach Brie Galicinao said. “We’ll be able to find out what we need to work on against the best and how we stack up.”

UCSB is coming off a fourth place finish from last season, finishing one game above .500 with a 27-26 overall record and 11-10 in the Big West conference. This season, Santa Barbara was picked in the Coaches Poll to finish fourth, behind Pacific, Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton, respectively.

The Gauchos play their first game of the season Thursday against the ninth ranked team in the country, Tennessee, and play double headers on Friday and Saturday, including a matchup against No. 11 Oregon and No. 10 Stanford on Sunday.

“Picking up a couple ranked wins would be great,” Galicinao said. “But we’re really focusing on our team and worrying about the things we can control, a good outcome would be focusing on the small things and recovering when things don’t go our way.”

The key to success this season will be the returning players on the team, including defensive anchor and senior catcher Lainey DePompa, who enters her final season looking to bring more leadership to the team.

“I think it’s important that all of the seniors and upperclassmen help our team reach our full potential,” DePompa said. “I think as a team, each class brings an important level of play and we mesh really well together on the field.”

The Gauchos’ offensive attack will be led by sophomore second baseman Kathryn Pilpil and First Team All-Big West junior shortstop Keilani Jennings, who had a league-leading 15 doubles last season and led the team in home runs (6) and batting average (.317) before going down to injury late in the season.

Team leader in ERA (3.33) and innings pitched (193.1), senior pitcher Krista Cobb, will be the ace of the staff alongside sophomore pitcher Andriana Collins, who looks to improve on her rookie year where she led the team with 89 strikeouts.

Despite facing tough opponents to start the season, the Gauchos are excited to get back on the field after a long break and begin the hunt for the Big West crown.

“We’ve been putting in so much work every day in practice,” Pilpil said. “We’re excited to finally get on the field and show everyone all the hard work that they don’t see.”

First pitch for the Gauchos is scheduled for 4:30 p.m.