The UCSB softball team kicked off its season yesterday, playing Grambling State University in the Mardi Gras Classic in Louisiana. They will play four more games this weekend, against Wichita State, Northwestern, Mississippi Valley State and Southeast Missouri State.

Last season, the Gauchos finished just one game behind Long Beach State for first place in the Big West despite winning their last seven conference games. Their 15-6 conference record was the team’s best ever in Big West play.

UCSB loses five seniors from last year in Krista Cobb, Lainey DePompa, Jenny Liepman, Brooke Putich and Allison Taylor, but it adds a lot of youth in 2013, bringing in seven freshmen. With only two seniors on the team this year in Jessica Soria and Keilani Jennings, the team is not worried about inexperience.

“We have a lot of new talented girls on the team this year, so [adding that] to the talent of the returning girls, [we] feel that anything is possible,” junior outfielder McKenzie Kane said. “We’re even stronger than last year so that definitely motivates us to go all the way this year.”

Another reason why the Gauchos shouldn’t be worried is because of the leadership of Head Coach Brie Galicinao, who is coming off her second career Big West Conference Coach of the Year award. Preaching for her players to play with “excellence and resiliency,” Galicinao has proven in the past that she can get her team to play at a high level.

“Whether it’s during batting practice or taking reps defensively, our coach makes sure we keep our standards high and our mental game sharp,” Kane said. “We have players that know the game really well and at this level that’s what it comes down to, being smart players.”

At the pitcher and catcher positions especially, UCSB will be showing off a bevy of new faces. Returning pitchers Andriana Collins and Shelby Wisdom are joined by freshmen Alex Pingree and Ashley Ludlow.

Wisdom was one of the team’s standout players last year as a freshman, breaking the UCSB records for wins (24) and strikeouts (247). She was named First Team All-Big West and Freshman Field Player of the Year, pitching with an ERA of 2.31, throwing five shut-outs and a no hitter while still contributing on offense with a .271 batting average, 35 hits and five home runs.

At catcher, UCSB will be using three freshmen in MeShalon Moore, Samantha Stark and Mariesa Davies.

Senior Jessica Soria is joined in the outfield by freshman Arianna Palomares and junior McKenzie Kane. Soria was also named First Team All-Big West last season after leading the team in runs (29), hits (58) and stolen bases (25).

The infield will be led by senior Shortstop Keilani Jennings and junior second baseman Kathryn Pilpil, who were both awarded Honorable Mention All-Big West last year. Junior Lauren Boser returns to play first base and junior Jessica Reichner starts at third base in her first game after transferring to UCSB.

Out with injuries to start the season are utility players Jenessa Jeppesen and Dejanee Moore. Jeppesen impressed in her freshman season last year, contributing five home runs, 104 putouts and 18 assists on her way to an All-Big West Honorable Mention.

Filling out the roster in the utility slot is freshman Jessica Tetzlaff.

Starting the season with six road games, the Gauchos know what they have to do to get off to a good start away from home.

“To start the season off strong, it’s important that we play with a lot of energy and give all the effort we have,” Kane said. “And as always, it’s our goal to just do the simple stuff, having quality at bats, swinging at good pitches and moving runners into scoring position.”

UCSB plays Wichita State at 7:00 a.m. and Louisiana-Monroe at 3:30 p.m. on Friday, Northwestern at 9:00 a.m. and Mississippi Valley State at 5:30 p.m. on Saturday, and Southeast Missouri State at 6:30 a.m. on Sunday.

A version of this article appeared on page 5 of the February 8th 2013’s print edition of the Daily Nexus.