Thursday, December 1, 2016

UCLA Profile: Bruins/Wildcats Top Card Yet Again

General Overview/2016 Recap: The Bruins kicked off 2016 with a loss in just their second game of the year, to Texas A&M. The Bruins would lose a grand total of six times in fifteen games in the month of February, including losses to Notre Dame; LSU; Florida; Oklahoma; and Northwestern.

During that same month of February, the Bruins' victories were just dotted with some impressive wins, including in a rematch over Texas A&M, as well as Georgia and UCF.

Delaney Spaulding will be a significant catalyst to any Bruin success in 2017.
Photo: UCLA Athletics
After losing the first two games of the month of March to Michigan and Florida State, both future Women's College World Series compatriots, the Bruins put together a nine-game win streak that included victories over Syracuse and Iowa State before a tie against Cal ended the opportunity for the Bruins to take the series win in Berkeley.

In the rest of conference play, the Bruins took a series loss to Washington and secured series wins over Oregon; Oregon State; and Arizona, as well as series sweeps over Stanford; Arizona State; and a shortened two-game sweep over Utah to close the regular season.

In the regional round, the Bruins made quick work of their opponents, disposing first of Cal State Bakersfield, then Cal State Fullerton twice to advance to the Super Regional round.

In the Supers, matched up against fellow Pac-12 foe Oregon, a lopsided 8-1 loss seemed to signal an imminent season's-end, but the Bruins turned it around and, with back-to-back matching doubleheader victories of 2-1 to advance to Oklahoma City for the second consecutive year after a previous four-year drought.

The joy was short-lived in Oklahoma, however, as the Bruins suffered losses to Auburn (10-3) and Florida State (8-4) to head back to Los Angeles 0-2 and as the first team eliminated from the World Series.

Around the Horn in 2016: (reflects departed players)
P – Paige McDuffee; Selina Ta'amilo; Johanna Grauer
C – Maddy Jelenicki
1B – Brianna Tautalafua
2B – Kylee Perez
3B – (Mysha Sataraka)
SS – Delaney Spaulding
LF – Gabrielle Maurice
CF – (Allexis Bennett)
RF – Zoe Shaw
DP – Paige Halstead
Carrying the Clipboards: The successor to the legendary Sue Enquist, Inouye-Perez has seen the Bruins to the postseason every season of her tenure, including four WCWS appearances that resulted in one championship. She presided over the 2010 title-winning club that saw the Bruins set a plethora of World Series records and Inouye-Perez's staff earn Coaching Staff of the Year honors. A lifelong Bruin, Inouye-Perez was an all-conference catcher in the early 1990s and spent thirteen seasons as an assistant on Enquist's staff before herself assuming the program's reins.

Lisa Fernandez has been and remains one of the game's most famous names. As a Bruin player, she earned first-team all-American honors in each of her four seasons. She was named the PAC-10 Player of the Year in her final three seasons and ended her college career with an astoundingly-miniscule 0.22 Earned Run Average. Under Fernandez's tutelage in 2016, the Bruin pitching staff posted a 3.66 team ERA, while sophomores Ta'Amilo and Grauer enjoyed solid campaigns in their second seasons, respectively, in the PAC-12.

It may be tough for some to remember that Kirk Walker's career in blue and gold actually bookends a near two-decade career as the head coach at Oregon State, a time that saw him become the Beavers' all-time winningest coach and lead the program to ten postseason berths, including a spot in the 2006 Women's College World Series. He has been back in Los Angeles since the 2013 season, his second tenure in LA following a decade on the Bruin coaching staff from 1984-1994.

Subtractions: The Bruins lost center fielder and lineup leadoff spark Allexis Bennett and slugging third baseman Mysha Sataraka will be marked as the biggest losses for the Bruins; Bennett hit .400/.449/.486 in 2016 while Sataraka hit .380 with fifteen home runs and a .796 slugging percentage.

Scheduling: The Bruins will open their season with the Stacy Winsberg Memorial Tournament in Los Angeles that will include a matchup against Notre Dame.

At the Mary Nutter Classic's first weekend, the Bruins will play Cal Poly; UCF; UC-Davis; Kentucky; and Liberty.

At the Mary Nutter, Part 2, the Bruins will take on North Carolina State; defending champion Oklahoma; and fellow defending Women's College World Series participants Georgia; LSU; and Florida State.

The Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton, California kicks off the month of March for the Bruins and will match them up against Michigan and Florida, as well as Cal State Fullerton; South Carolina; and Baylor.

In conference play, the Bruins will host Utah; Oregon; Cal; and Arizona, and will travel to Washington; Oregon State; Stanford; and Arizona State.
Potential Strengths/Weaknesses ---
Strengths – The Bruins return many offensive starters, including Delaney Spaulding who should get some serious recognition on a national level. All three members of the World Series-bound pitching staff from a season ago returns, with some serious postseason experience now under their belts. The conference schedule plays well in their favor, hosting the toughest conference opponents, excepting Washington.

Weaknesses – The Pac-12 suffered from a bit of a down year in 2016, but should be looking to rebound in 2017. The Bruins may face tougher competition from teams like Arizona, whose own return to top prominence may see the return of the historical Bruin v. Wildcat top-bill, bitter rivalry. The pitching staff showed some serious moments of being overwhelmed in the World Series, and with a difficult non-conference early-season schedule, need to find their footing early and consistently.

Outlook for 2017: The return of the Bruin/Wildcat rivalry to top billing should excite and scare softball fans and teams across the nation. The Bruins, running on back-to-back World Series experiences, are in prime position to return for a third year in a row. If they can successfully navigate their early season schedule, which will match them up against five of their fellow World Series-participating teams from '16 and two-time champion Florida, then 2017 could be a season of success.

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