One year after finishing just a win short of the Big West Conference title, the UCSB softball team took a step back this season as they ended with a .500 conference record and a fourth-place finish.

“A lot of those freshmen got game experience and they filled some pretty key roles for us,” Head Coach Brie Galicinao said. “They had some big performances, and there’s a lot of room for them to get even better physically and mentally. We’re looking forward to them stepping up even more next year.”

The team now loses two of its most important players in seniors Jessica Soria (center field) and shortstop Keilani Jennings.

However, despite losing two key players, the Gauchos bring in six versatile new recruits to bolster an already solid roster.

One of the most notable signings for UCSB is two-time San Marcos’ Most Valuable Player Kristen Berlo. The gifted 6’1” athlete has not only signed on to play pitcher aside standouts sophomore Shelby Wisdom and freshman Alex Pingree, but she will also be playing for UCSB volleyball in the fall. In her junior year, she struck out 277 batters and maintained a .429 batting average.

“We’ll have five pitchers and she’ll also be playing volleyball here at UCSB too,” Galiciano said. “She can come in and make an impact right away.”

While the Gauchos were generally solid on defense this past season, they struggled to put up runs at times. Incoming outfielder and three-time Fountain Valley Offensive Player of the Year Emily Brucelas should be able to help with the offensive woes.

“It’s always a transition going from high school to travel to college, but she’ll be a hitter who can adjust playing at this level,” Galicinao said. “She’s pretty aggressive offensively and I think she’ll be pretty consistent at this level.”

Another player with good potential to help on the offensive side is Texas native Kristen Clark. With a good swing and great speed, she can also help fill in the outfield, an area that was once controlled by Soria’s speed.

“She’s somebody who’s fast from the right side, but she can hit for power and also play the short game,” Galicinao said. “She’s pretty softball-savvy and just an all-around athlete.”

Also adding to the depth of the outfield is Sunkist League MVP Stacy Cavazos. In her senior year, she hit at an incredible .544 clip and had 54 RBI.

“She’s the other fast one,” Galicinao said. “She’s a triple threat that hits from the left side and can also hit it over the fence. After she signed on, she asked what she should do. I said ‘Just stay fast,’ and she did.”

While most of the other recruits are versatile players who can play multiple positions, local native utility Rieanna Thomas is the only one who will have it in her job description. As a utility, she will be able to chip in by playing multiple positions on the field.

Rounding out the recruits is outfielder Jackie Hinojosa from Saint Francis High School. In her junior year, she had a .531 batting average and scored 22 runs.

Overall, the speed and versatility of the incoming freshmen should make an instant impact. If the new players can complement the experience of the current team, UCSB could see a return to the top next season.

A version of this article appeared on page 9 of May 23, 2013’s print edition of The Daily Nexus.

Photo by Kevin Yang of The Daily Nexus.