UCLA softball ready to ‘level up and compete again’ – Orange County Register

Feb 7, 2024 | Canyon Crest Guide Newspaper | 0 comments

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Every season is a fresh start, but this spring is an especially momentous occasion for No. 8 UCLA softball to start anew. A mental refresh and internal changes have rebuilt this season’s young team after a disappointing end to last season.

The Bruins went 52-7 overall and dropped only three games in Pac-12 play, but lost to Grand Canyon University and then Liberty University in the NCAA Regionals for an early postseason exit.

“It definitely fueled the fire,” said sophomore Megan Grant, who hit .333 with 15 home runs last year. “There were a lot of things that I felt during that time and a lot of things I had to get through in order to say, ‘I’m OK now.’ It was a long process, but I think now is the right time like to say, ‘I’m ready to go.’”

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UCLA, picked second in the Pac-12 preseason coaches poll, has added pitching coach Rob Schweyer and volunteer director of player development and data analytics Will Oldham. Bubba Nickles, who won a national championship with UCLA in 2019, is back as a graduate assistant coach.

In addition to having longer practices that provide more individual attention, Inouye-Perez also brought in a mental performance coach to help the Bruins get back on track after last season’s premature ending.

“Being able to just take a deep breath and get ready for a new year after a year like last year is difficult,” Inouye-Perez said. “So we brought people in to train on how to level up, how to get past things that could be disappointing or traumatic, and kind of get ready to level up and compete again.”

Schweyer will oversee a pitching staff led by sophomore Taylor Tinsley, the only returning pitcher. UC San Diego junior transfer Jada Cecil, junior Mackenzie Ficke and freshman left-hander Kaitlyn “KT” Terry fill out the group.

Tinsley will likely be the Bruins’ ace this season after a freshman season in which she went 6-1 with a 1.47 earned run average, which earned her a spot on the Pac-12 All-Freshman Team.

“It’s definitely weird being the only returner in the bullpen, but it’s honestly really exciting,” Tinsley said. “I have taken the leadership role in the bullpen quite seriously, but it’s also been kind of more relaxed because it was never serious in the bullpen last year. We always had fun.”

Six sophomores and four freshmen populate UCLA’s roster, and Terry has drawn significant praise from her coach and teammates. The freshman from Greenway High in Phoenix, who was a two-time Gatorade Arizona Player of the Year, is a two-way player who hit the scoreboard in her first at-bat as a Bruin in the fall.

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Inouye-Perez said it’s likely Terry will work her way to a more permanent spot in the batting order, but the coaching staff has Terry focusing on pitching right now. Her teammates have dubbed her “The Lawnmower” because she mows people down while in the circle.

“Coach I always asks us one word to describe KT and I always say ‘Go,’” Grant said. “She is so in it for the Bruins, even as a hitter as well. She is legit. Slapping, hitting, she can do it all, speed, everything.”

Terry hit in the No. 7 spot during a fall scrimmage against Loyola Marymount in October. Grant was the leadoff hitter, followed by redshirt senior shortstop Maya Brady and sophomore third baseman Jordan Woolery. All three, in addition to redshirt senior catcher Sharlize Palacios, were named to the 2024 USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Top 50 Watch List last month.

Brady was a Player of the Year Top 3 finalist last season and owned the best batting average in the conference at .448, with four multi-home run games as she moved from centerfield to shortstop.

Palacios, a Pac-12 All-Defensive Team honoree, held a .311 batting average before a left hand injury ended her season early. Grant was All-Pac-12 First Team after leading all conference freshmen in RBIs, home runs, doubles and slugging percentage. Woolery was the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year with a .390 batting average, which was best in the conference for a freshman.

Thursday’s season opener against Cal State Fullerton to start the Stacy Winsberg Tournament at Easton Stadium was postponed due to rainy weather. UCLA begins its season with two games Friday – 3 p.m. against Maryland and 6 p.m. against No. 5 Texas, which will be shown on ESPN.

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