When GiOnna DiSalvatore and her UCLA teammates visited Oklahoma City in 2008 for the Women's College World Series, it was over before the Bruins could hardly blink. The program with 10 titles suffered an embarrassing loss in an elimination game to Florida after just three games.
For DiSalvatore, it was a tough pill to swallow.
"As a freshman, I put a lot of pressure on myself leading up to those games," said DiSalvatore, the all-everything former Countryside High standout who became the first freshman at UCLA to earn first-team All-America honors since 2001. "The other freshmen and I really wanted to win for the senior class, who hadn't won a title yet. That pressure magnified itself and the simple things were forgotten. And then playing Florida, which was one of the schools I was interested in, and losing to them added to the disappointment."
This time, everything is different.
After the Bruins missed the World Series in 2009, UCLA finds itself on familiar ground again in the final against Pac-10 rival Arizona, which has won eight championships. And while only five of 18 players in 2008 had played in the World Series, this year's team has 12 of 20 players with postseason experience.
The Bruins defeated the Wildcats 6-5 Monday in eight innings, and UCLA can wrap up another title with a win tonight.
For DiSalvatore, this time around is a much different experience.
"I have taken the time to truly savor the moment this time," said DiSalvatore, named to the NFCA All-American first team for the second time this past week. "Before the lineups are called since we've been here, I've run down the sideline to the outfield fence, turned around and taken it all in, the stadium, the crowd, the field, the players. I'll just think about where I've come from and what it's taken to get here. The last time, it was all a blur, but I've really made it a point to appreciate it all now."
DiSalvatore, whose game dropped a bit last year as a result of "other teams knowing me more," has grown in many ways and considers her mental and psychological development as the main reason her play improved so much this season. She credits most of that to the willingness to receive advice from the athletic department's psychologist.
"I just thought it was corny when I was a freshman," DiSalvatore said. "After seeing the way teams approached me last year, I just figured it couldn't hurt."
DiSalvatore is hitting .398 (after batting a career-low .323 in 2009) with 10 homers and 52 RBIs (tied for second on the team). She leads the team with 52 runs scored and 17 doubles. As a leadoff hitter, she is batting .451 with seven homers and 28 RBIs since taking over 23 games ago after junior Katie Schroeder was injured.
"To be able to do what she's done as far as moving from the No. 3 spot to the leadoff role and excel demonstrates the biggest growth in her maturity," UCLA coach Kelly Inouye-Perez said. "She's by far one of the most talented Bruins we've ever had."
The 21-year-old junior readily admits how, a decade ago, she sometimes despised going to the fields with her father, Joe, in the Misty Springs neighborhood "because I was missing birthday parties and trips to the beach." But now she embraces the fact she stuck through the six-days-a-week grind.
"I wouldn't change a thing for the world," DiSalvatore said. "I've loved my time at UCLA and it's been a blessing. This is what all the hard work led to and I'm so happy and proud to be where I am."