TUCSON--A crowd of about 2,000 well-wishers and University of Arizona staff roared in appreciation as the 2006 NCAA Softball Champion Arizona Wildcats returned to campus from Oklahoma City Wednesday morning.
McKale Memorial Center's video board played portions of Tuesday night's title-clinching victory over Northwestern, softball season highlights and clips from past championship celebrations before the team arrived near mid-day for player introductions and remarks by UA president Peter Likins, head coach Mike Candrea and the Cats' senior class.
A brief addition to the ceremony took place when Arizona Gov. Janet Napolitano placed a call to UA officials and was patched through via cellphone over the public address system, to offer her congratulations.
Afterward, the team held an informal free-for-all news conference behind the draped Championship backdrop before comingling with some of the many fans, friends and family of the nation's best Division I softball team.
Arizona (54-11), claimed its trophy with a 5-1 record in Oklahoma, including twin shutouts by Alicia Hollowell, 8-0 and 5-0,
A fourth senior, Kelly Nelson, enjoyed a special role, joining the team after a successful four-year UA soccer career, and capped her contributions as the team's top pinch runner with a steal of home in a key UA victory over Tennessee in semi-final WCWS action.
Likins, who retires this month, began his career as UA president simultaneously with Arizona's fifth NCAA softball title in 1997, and goes out as the Cats brought home a seventh, its second in the 2000s on the heels of a 2001 title.
Hollowell, Champion, junior centerfielder Caitlin Lowe and sophomore designated player Taryne Mowatt were named to the All-WCWS team, but players in Arizona's lineup from top to bottom all had key contributions as the team clearly was playing the best team softball in the country at the most crucial of times, Candrea noted.
Hollowell earned WCWS Most Oustanding Player honors.
Arizona beat Oregon State and Texas, lost to Tennessee, and beat the Vols to reach the championship best-of-three series that determines the NCAA titlist. Against the other Wildcats in the final two games, Arizona used speed and Hollowell's pitching to take control of the games. Hollowell finished with world series records for strikeouts (64) and complete games (six).
The Wildcats were an at-large selection for the NCAA Championships, just missing a shared or outright Pac-10 championship by winning their final 10 games, finishing a half-game behind UCLA, which became the overall No. 1 seed in the tournament. UA was seeded No. 2.
The Cats were ranked No. 2 in one poll prior to the NCAAs, but will regain the top slot and retain their top ranking in the other poll -- neither of which has any real bearing on championship play. But it does clarify that observers note Arizona's play in 2006 was at the top of the game -- a fact proven by the team on the field.
Arizona's WCWS Lineup
Caitlin Lowe, junior CF
Autumn Champion, senior LF
Kristie Fox, junior SS
Callista Balko, sophomore C
Jenae Leles, freshman 3B
Chelsie Mesa, junior 2B
Taryne Mowatt, sophomore DP
Laine Roth, freshman 1B
Adrienne Acton, sophomore RF
Alicia Hollowell, senior P
Jill Malina, freshman OF
Sam Banister, freshman 1B
Kelly Nelson, senior OF
Leslie Wolfe, senior P
Danielle Rodriguez, sophomore 2B