A return to normalcy. A statement that best describes the 2005 season for the Arizona softball team.
The return of Head Coach Mike Candrea after spending the previous season leading the United States to a gold medal in Athens. Arizona’s return to the Women’s College World Series, after missing the WCWS in 2004 for the first time since 1987.
For the Wildcats, the 2006 season also has that same sense of return, yet this time it may be a return to Tucson what the Wildcat faithful have not seen since 2001: a national championship.
In a sport in which everything starts from the circle, Arizona brings back its entire pitching staff that led the Pac-10 in ERA in 2005. Anchored by three-time All-American Alicia Hollowell, Wildcat hurlers surrendered the fewest earned runs, total runs, hits, walks and home runs in a conference that sent all eight of its teams to the NCAA Tournament.
“Obviously the circle is going to be huge with Hollowell coming back,” Candrea said. “Taryne Mowatt is much improved and a little more mature, ready to step in. Last year, Leslie Wolfe came on very strong in the end and showed us that she can give some quality innings.”
Hollowell’s assault on the UA and NCAA record books should continue in 2006, when she could leave the collegiate ranks with the most victories and strikeouts in NCAA history. For a complete listing of records on the horizon for Hollowell, please see page 11 of the media guide.
Offensively, UA led the conference in batting average and was second in on-base percentage, but finished sixth in runs scored. To put Arizona’s 261 runs on the season in perspective, 2005 marked the first time since the advent of the yellow softball that the Wildcats have failed to score more than 300 runs. Additionally, UA slugged under .420 (.399 in 2005) for the first time since 1992, as well.
The good news for the Wildcats is that All-American outfielders Caitlin Lowe and Autumn Champion, who batted first and second in all 57 games in 2005, should continue to catalyze rallies. Following that speedy duo, All-American junior shortstop Kristie Fox, who led the nation in RBIs last year, is back to drive in some more runs.
“Obviously our ultimate goal is to have balance between speed and power and throughout the lineup, and to score runs you have to have both,” Candrea explains. “I feel good about Caitlin and Autumn at the top of the order. The key is having some people producing
|All-American Outfielder Autumn Champion|
The difference between 2005 and 2006 should be what follows the All-American trio. Candrea has brought in yet another stellar class of recruits, this one made up of two transfers and three true freshmen.
Junior Chelsie Mesa comes to the Old Pueblo by way of Phoenix College, where she brought home some pretty heavy hardware. Over the last two years, Mesa led the Bears to back-to-back NJCAA Division II National Championships. Along the way, Mesa’s efforts were recognized with 2005 ACCAC and NJCAA Female Athlete of the Year honors.
“Chelsie will add some pop to the lineup and will help protect Fox. Fox was as consistent a right-handed hitter as we had last year, but you need to have two or three of those bats so opponents can’t pitch around her. I think it’s going to be tougher for people to pitch around Fox when you have a Chelsie Mesa or Erin Slettvet hitting around her.”
Mesa, a power-hitting middle infielder, swings the bat from the left side. With the promise she showed in UA’s fall tournament, Mesa could be just the second left-handed hitter after Leneah Manuma to crack Arizona’s top 10 list for RBI in a season.
Redshirt sophomore catcher Erin Slettvet comes to Arizona via Pima College and San Diego State. An NJCAA Division I All-American with 23 home runs and 105 RBIs last year, Slettvet could continue in the line of great Wildcat catchers that captured All-American honors in eight of nine years between 1992 and 2000.
With All-Americans patrolling two-thirds of the outfield, all three freshmen are infielders with right-handed bats. In addition to Fox and Mesa up the middle, former second baseman Jenae Leles looks to take over at the hot corner. Sam Banister, who started all fall games at third base, could see time at first or third.
Sophomore Callista Balko, who started 40 games behind the dish and 16 at second base, should continue to be moved around the field. Look for Balko at either corner of the infield, or back behind the plate to give Slettvet a rest.
Finally, freshman Laine Roth, who started all fall games at first base and led newcomers in batting, is also competing for the first base and designated player jobs.