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Arizona Softball Team Opens 2002 Season
Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
Release: 01/22/2002
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Courtesy: Arizona Athletics
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Jan. 22, 2002

The Cats
The defending NCAA Champion Arizona Wildcats open the 2002 softball season with a pair of exhibition doubleheaders against Division II competition this week and an exhibition doubleheader early next week against junior college competition. The Wildcats return several key players from the 2001 club which recorded a 65-4 record including starters in National Player of the Year pitcher Jennie Finch, All-American first baseman Leneah Manuma, catcher Mackenzie Vandergeest, second baseman Lisha Ribellia and pitcher Jenny Gladding.

The Coach
Arizona's Mike Candrea carries a career record of 871-172 (.835), accomplished in 16 years with the Wildcats. The 2001 Pac-10 co-Coach of the Year has led UA to six national titles and six Pacific-10 Conference championships. He should become only the third Division I coach in history to win 900 games this year. During his tenure Wildcat student-athletes have earned All-America honors 59 times and won the Honda Softball Award four times (Susie Parra-1994, Jenny Dalton-1996, Nancy Evans-1998 and Jennie Finch-2001). Candrea's Arizona teams have played in 15 consecutive NCAA Tournaments and 14 consecutive College World Series. Candrea is joined by assistant coaches Nancy Evans and Larry Ray.

Cats Put Winning Streaks on the Line
Arizona enters the 2002 season with a live 26-game winning streak and an improbable home 44-game winning streak in Hillenbrand Stadium. The latter is one shy of tying the school record of 45 games (from May 1996 to March 1998). UA last lost in Hillenbrand on April 9, 2000, to No. 9 Stanford, 4-3 in eight innings.

Squad Chemistry
Arizona returns five letterwinners in Finch, sophomores Gladding, Manuma and Vandergeest, and junior Ribellia. Candrea adds a redshirt junior, a senior transfer, a redshirt freshman and seven true freshmen to the club -- which by necessity will field a new outfield, shortstop, third baseman and catcher.
Seniors: 2
Juniors: 2
Sophomores: 3
Redshirt Freshmen: 1
Freshmen: 7

Returning With Honors
Senior Pitcher Jennie Finch - 1st-team All-America, 1st-team All-Pacific-Region, 1st-team All-Pac-10, Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year, Honda Softball Award, College World Series MVP, All-NCAA Region 1.
Sophomore First Baseman Leneah Manuma - 1st-team All-America, 1st-team All-Pacific-Region, 2nd-team All-Pacific-10.
Sophomore Catcher Mackenzie Vandergeest - 2nd-team All-Pac-10, All-NCAA Region 1.

Cats Winning Streaks on the line Feb. 1
Arizona has a live 26-game winning streak and a live 44-game home-field winning streak entering the 2002 season. They'll be tested Feb. 1 with the regular-season opener at Hillenbrand Stadium Feb. 1 in the first of three games against Alabama.

Hillenbrand Stadium
UA's home field, Rita Hillenbrand Memorial Stadium, has been a friendly place for the Cats to play since it opened in the 1993 season. UA carries a record of 277-17 in the ball park. The Cats were unbeaten at home last year at 37-0 and capped the previous year with seven consecutive victories to carry a 44-game home winning streak.

Softball Tickets
Most of Hillenbrand Stadium's reserved seating has been sold out on a season-ticket basis, and fans are purchasing outfield general admission seating as season tickets. Contact the McKale Center Ticket Office for more information at 621-2287 or 1-800-452-2287.

Arizona Softball Media Day
The Wildcat softball team and staff will be available for annual Media Day activities at 3 p.m. Wednesday, Jan. 30.

Probable Wildcat Lineup
Arizona's 2002 lineup likely won't be set for weeks, but don't bet against pitcher/first baseman Finch, first baseman/dh Manuma, second baseman Ribellia, catcher Vandergeest, shortstop Jung and pitcher Gladding. The big group of young outfielders and third base candidates get to show their mettle in early games.

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