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    After taking the first national championship in program history last season — winning their championship match against Alabama-Huntsville 10-3 — the Tritons look set to pick up where they left off.

    The complete 2011 NFCA Coaching Staff of the Year returns, with UCSD head coach Patti Gerckens returning for her 20th season at the helm.

    The NFCA Coach of the year heads a squad replete with two All-West Region selections and the CCAA Freshman of the Year — all anchored by junior All-American pitcher Camile Gaito.

    Gaito returns to the mound for UCSD after recording the fourth lowest ERA in the nation last season — just 40 runs in 47 appearances — leading the Tritons in their undefeated post-season run.

    The 5’4” pitcher is joined by senior All-CCAA selection Kris Lesovsky, an outfielder and offensive mainstay for the Tritons, who returns as the lead-off hitter.

    All-CCAA Freshman of the year Mya Romero will sit in as short-stop for UCSD.

    Romero will likely be relied upon to continue generating hits in her sophomore year, as her 46 hit record is second only to Lesovsky on the roster.

    Sophomore outfielder Taylor Sepulveda — an All-NCAA Tournament team selection — also returns, along with sophomore catcher turned first baseman Caitlin Brown.

    Although UCSD’s young team is filled with talent, Gerckens concedes that the graduated seniors left gaps in the roster.

    “We definitely have some big shoes to fill,” Gerckens said. “But we have some great players returning and we have a talented group of freshmen.

    But they’re young and they’ll need time to learn and mature.”

    But Gerckens said she couldn’t attribute the Tritons’ mercurial rise from the 2010 season, where UCSD failed to even make the conference playoffs, to any one factor.

    “It was just so many variables and so many of our freshmen just came up big,” Gerckens said. “But our seniors- — Jen DeFazio, Sara Woofter, Katrin Gabriel, in the postseason — the three of them were our driving force. They just harnessed everyone and got them to believe, and as we continued to win and pull out games in the last inning, the team just started to believe. Things just started to come together, and we just had a good bunch of athletes that had the right chemistry. Things just gelled at the right time, our offense gelled at the right time and our defense, which had been strong the whole year continued. And of course, to top it off, [Gaito] stepped up for us on the mound, and that speaks volumes right there.”

    The first game of the season against Northwest Nazarene will likely be the proving ground to find a replacement for third baseman Sarah Woofter.

    Woofter, who started all of her four years for the Tritons alongside graduated second baseman Jennifer De Fazio, are two power-hitters that the Tritons will miss.

        That is not to say UCSD is without a way to generate offense.

    One of the strengths of the Tritons is their versatility, giving Gerckens the option to either hit big or play small-ball.
       
    Gerckens said the Tritons’ speed running bases is also a huge upside.
      
     “Speed doesn’t go into slumps,” she said. “We want our athletes to be smart and aggressive on the bases. If we can get the defense thinking about the runner on base, that means that the catcher will be thinking about them stealing, which means that some of her emphasis is going to be taken away from the pitch-call. And the pitcher may be worried about people taking off. Our goal is to confuse them and make them think about us. And when you can force errors, it really can bring a team down.”

    Gerckens’ emphasis on base-running is seen in the new additions, who include senior Annie Wethe, who spent her four years of eligibility as the starting center midfielder for the women’s soccer team.

    Wethe will be playing utility and primarily running bases.

    Other Triton newcomers include first baseman Monique Portugal and junior transfer right handed pitcher Michelle Escamilla, who are both expected to make immediate impacts.

    In the National Fastpitch Coaches Preseason Poll, the Tritons claimed the No. 1 rank yesterday, Wednesday, Feb. 1. UCSD received 16 first-place votes.

    “We can’t look at it from the viewpoint that we’re champions,” UCSD assistant coach Jessica Millsap said. “It’s about doing what we need to do, playing the game we love and having fun. We’re just excited, enthusiastic, and we can’t wait for Friday night.”

    The Tritons head into the first game of their season this Friday, Feb. 3, against Northwest Nazarene University. UCSD begins CCAA conference play the following weekend against Chico State.

       

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