No. 1 Arizona begins its defense of the 2006 and 2007 national championships at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz., on Friday, Feb. 15.
ON THE AIR:
Fans in Tucson who are unable to travel up to Tempe can tune into KCUB 1290 AM The Source for the Wildcatsˇ? final game of the weekend against Nevada on Feb. 17 at 1 p.m. Free Live Stats, powered by Tucson Electric Power, will be provided for all home games and many road games.
NOTING THE OPPONENTS:
FRIDAY, FEB. 15 ?C AT THE TEMPE SPORTS COMPLEX
NOTRE DAME: The Irish are coming off a 32-24 campaign in 2007 and return All-Big East selections Katie Laing, Brittney Bargar and Beth Northway. Bargar, a junior pitcher, prepped with Wildcat All-American Taryne Mowatt at Corona Santiago High School (Corona, Calif.). Notre Dame head coach Deanna Gumpf enters her seventh year in South Bend, where she has compiled a 251-114 (.687) overall record. The Irish have been picked to finish fourth in the Big East by conference coaches.
TEXAS TECH: The Red Raiders opened their 2008 season in Las Vegas this past weekend, dropping all four of their games, including losses to Washington and Arizona State. It should be noted, however, that TTUˇ?s loss to Washington was Red Raidersˇ? only contest of the weekend decided by more than two runs.
Although TTU missed out on the NCAA Tournament with a 24-27 record last season, the Red Raiders nearly upset Oklahoma in the Big 12 Tournament championship game. Former Washington head coach Teresa Wilson is in her fourth season at TTU, where she has registered a 66-91 overall record.
Arizona and Texas Tech met twice in 2007, with the Wildcats winning by a 1-0 margin on Feb. 16, before downing the Red Raiders, 8-1, two days later. UA pitcher Taryne Mowatt pitched her first of three no-hitters of 2007 in the Feb. 16 victory. Kristie Fox went 2-for-4 with a double, a home run and four RBI in the Feb. 18 contest.
SATURDAY, FEB. 16 ?C AT ASUˇ?s FARRINGTON STADIUM
NORTHWESTERN: The Wildcats are ranked sixth in the NFCA poll after a pair of WCWS appearances over the last two seasons. NU is led by 2007 Big Ten Freshman of the Year Nicole Pauly and two-time NFCA All-American Tammy Williams. Pauly hit 14 home runs last season, and Williams has clubbed 30 homers in just two collegiate seasons.
Arizona has defeated NU in the Kajikawa in each of the last two seasons. On Feb. 10, 2007, the pair of Wildcat teams met in a match up of No. 1 Arizona against fourth-ranked Northwestern. Fueled by a three-run, sixth-inning rally, UA defeated the purple-clad ˇ®Cats, 4-3. Additionally, Arizona swept Northwestern in the 2006 championship series at the WCWS to capture UAˇ?s seventh national championship.
TEXAS A&M: The Big 12 Conference favorites and 2007 WCWS participants had their highest preseason ranking in school history at No. 2 and this week the Aggies check in as the third-ranked team in the NFCA poll. Led by the interchangeable pitcher/first baseman combination of senior All-Americans Amanda Scarborough and Megan Gibson, A&M returns as much talent as any team in the country.
Last weekend, the Aggies played to a 4-1 record highlighted by a victory over Oregon State and a loss to Cal Poly.
The Wildcats and Aggies are familiar foes, having played one another four times in 2007. The Aggies stole a, 3-2, decision from Arizona at the Kajikawa, before Arizona took two of three from A&M back in Tucson. Taryne Mowatt one-hit the Aggies in a, 5-0, win in the first game of the series, and A&M handed the Wildcats a, 4-3, defeat in game two off of a Jamie Hinshaw grand slam. On Sunday, UA took the rubber match by a, 6-2, margin thanks to two Callista Balko home runs.
SUNDAY, FEB. 17 ?C AT THE TEMPE SPORTS COMPLEX
SOUTHERN UTAH: The five-time defending Mid-Continent Conference (now Summit League) champion Thunderbirds will be put to the test early and often. After opening their 2008 season at the Red Desert Classic in St. George, Utah, with two wins and three losses, the Thunderbirds will host Team Canada on Wednesday before heading to Tempe. Prior to facing UA, SUU has contests scheduled against 2007 WCWS squads Northwestern and Washington. A participant in the Provo Regional last season, the T-Birds are led by senior infielder Lindi Kennedy, who hit 15 home runs to go along with 57 RBI last season.
NEVADA: The Wolf Pack began the season last weekend at the Freeway Series in Los Angeles and Fullerton, Calif. Nevada defeated UC Santa Barbara, Cal State Fullerton and Santa Clara but lost to perennial powers UCLA and Oklahoma. The Pack hung tough with the Sooners, dropping a 1-0 contest.
The WAC coaches have picked the Wolf Pack to finish third in their conference and named Nevada pitcher Jordan McPherson the pre-season conference pitcher of the year. The best hurler in school history, McPherson holds Nevada career records for ERA (2.27), complete games (43) and strikeouts (342). Offensively, junior outfielder Brittany Puzey led the Pack with 13 home runs and 52 RBI last season. Michelle Gardner is in her sixth year at Nevada and boasts a 146-160 record with the Pack.
WILDCATS IN THE KAJIKAWA:
For the third consecutive year, Arizona will open its season at the Kajikawa Classic. Last year, UA went 4-2 with victories over Ohio State, Nevada, Northwestern and Wisconsin and losses to Florida and Texas A&M. In 2006, the Wildcats dominated its competition as they outscored the opposition by a margin of 36-1 and registered victories over three teams ranked 15th or higher.
ARIZONA HEAD COACH MIKE CANDREA ?C is in his 23rd season at the helm of the Arizona softball program. He boasts a 1,131-228-2 (.832) record in 21 seasons in the dugout. This year, he is taking an eight-month partial leave of absence beginning in January 2008 to serve as head coach for the U.S. Womenˇ?s National Team. Candrea has earned 19 coach-of-the-year honors, including 10 Pac-10 Coach of the Year citations. Last year, the Pac-10 tabbed Candrea as its coach of the year, and the NFCA named Candrea and his assistants its national staff of the year. Similar to this season, Candrea took a leave of absence in 2004 to coach the USA Olympic softball team to a 9-0 record and a gold medal in Athens. Candrea was also awarded the Olympic Shield award, the U.S. Olympic Committeeˇ?s most prestigious award, marking the first time in history the award was given to an Olympic coach. He has led Arizona to eight national championships, 10 Pac-10 titles and is one of just five Division I coaches to have won over 1,100 career games.
CANDREA NEVER FAR AWAY:
Although Coach Candrea will be with the U.S. Womenˇ?s National Team on a grueling 40-city tour throughout the spring, he will be on hand in Tucson periodically to infuse the leadership that has taken the Arizona softball program to the top of the game. A preliminary schedule indicates that he will be with Arizona for the following time periods:
- Candrea will see UA play for at least one full weekend every month
- Candrea will spend a minimum of six weekdays in Tucson every month from February through April
- Candrea is slated to be in town for approximately 17 Arizona games, including the Palm Springs Classic, Fullertonˇ?s Judi Garman Classic and nine Arizona home games
INTERIM HEAD COACH LARRY RAY: With head coach Mike Candrea on a partial leave of absence during the 2008 season, 17-year assistant coach Larry Ray has taken the reins of the Arizona softball program. Ray enters 2008 with a 224-112 (.667) career record as a head coach and five NCAA Championships as an assistant. Ray possesses a powerful combination of head coaching experience and familiarity with Arizona softball. Ray spent five years as Floridaˇ?s first head coach, and in 1998 he was named the SEC Coach of the Year after leading the Gators to an SEC Eastern Division title and a trip to the NCAA Regional Championships. He returned to Arizona in 2002, and in 2004 he led the Wildcats to a 55-6 record and a Pacific-10 Championship.
DEFENDING THE TITLE:
Arizona has experienced exceptional success in years following a national title. The Wildcats have appeared in the national title game after every one of their national championships and average 60-7 record in those seven campaigns.?
Arizona has been ranked No. 1 in the country for at least part of the year every season since 1991. This year is no different, as the Wildcats have been tabbed the preseason No. 1 team in the country both by the NFCA/USA Today and USA Softball/ESPN.com polls.
The Pacific-10 Conference coaches have selected Arizona as the team to beat in 2008. The Wildcats narrowly beat out Arizona State by a 45 to 44 point margin in the preseason coaches poll. Please see page 7 of the weekly notes for complete poll results.
USA SOFTBALL NATIONAL COLLEGIATE PLAYER OF THE YEAR "WATCH LIST": For the second consecutive year Arizona senior pitcher Taryne Mowatt and senior catcher Callista Balko were named to the exclusive 50-name preseason list. Arizona is scheduled to face 25 of the highly-touted players.
MOWATT TABBED PRE-SEASON ALL-AMERICAN: ESPN.com named Arizona senior pitcher Taryne Mowatt to its 12-player pre-season All-America team.
STARTING THE YEAR:
Traditionally, Arizona has had success on Opening Day, as well as the weeks thereafter. The Wildcats have won 17 consecutive season openers, and since 1990 UA has won its first 10 or more contests to begin the season on 10 occasions. With interim head coach Larry Ray at the helm in 2004, UA won a program-record 34 consecutive games to begin the campaign.
READY AND RESTED:
This time last year, questions were raised of how then-junior pitcher Taryne Mowatt would handle the pitching load with the graduation of 2006 WCWS Most Outstanding Player Alicia Hollowell. As the softball world now knows, Mowatt did just fine and made a name for herself in her own right. Here is an abbreviated list of the Wildcat aceˇ?s 2007 accomplishments:
- Womenˇ?s College World Series Most Outstanding Player
- WCWS records: Innings pitched (60), victories (6), complete games (8), strikeouts (76)
- NFCA second-team All-America
- ESPY Award: Best Female Athlete, Best Female College Athlete
- First team All-Pacific-10
- Arizona and Pac-10 single-season records: Victories (42), innings pitched (370), strikeouts (522)
- Registered 22 victories over teams ranked in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25
- Pitched three no-hitters (over Texas Tech, Arizona State and Howard)
- USA Softball Player of the Week (April 2-8)
- Four-time Pac-10 Pitcher of the Week
SHE NEEDS TO ICE HER KNEES:
Senior catcher Callista Balko has caught every pitch of every game since the 2006 season opener at the Kajikawa Classic. Over the two-year span, Balko has caught all 130 games and 877.1 innings. The last time someone other than Balko suited up behind the dish for the Wildcats was in June 2005, when Jackie Coburn caught Alicia Hollowell in UAˇ?s season-ending loss to Texas at the Womenˇ?s College World Series.
CLOSER TO THE ACTION:
With the graduation of four-year starter and current student assistant coach Kristie Fox, sophomore Kˇ?Lee Arredondo will make the transition to her natural position of shortstop after having played the majority of 2007 in left field. In 2007, Arredondo played seven games at short and 58 in left field.
OTHER POSITION CHANGES:
In addition to Kˇ?Lee Arredondoˇ?s move to shortstop, sophomore third baseman/pitcher Sarah Akamine will shift over to second base and senior outfielder Adrienne Acton is penciled in to be UAˇ?s center fielder after starting the last three years in right.
NOTHING COMES EASILY:
As always, Arizona has scheduled a difficult non-conference slate and the numbers back it up. In each of the last two years, the Wildcats have had the nationˇ?s best strength of schedule and finished second in the category in 2005. If the preseason polls are any indication, UA is taking all comers once again. According to the ESPN.com/USA Softball poll, UA will play seven of the top 10 teams over the course of the season and will play 29 games against squads ranked in the Top 25. In the USA Today/NFCA poll, the Wildcats are slated to face eight of the top 12 and play 27 contests against ranked teams.
WHATˇ?S LOST AND WHOˇ?S BACK:
In Kristie Fox, Caitlin Lowe and Chelsie Mesa, Arizona lost the top three hitters from its 2007 team. Though the task to make up nearly 50 percent of a teamˇ?s run production is daunting, Wildcat fans remember that Fox had to replace an All-American by the name of Lovie Jung, who will be pursuing her second Olympic gold medal this summer. Additionally, although Lowe was arguably the best offensive weapon and outfielderin the college game for the last four years, UA has a history of having to replace legendary outfielders such as Leah Oˇ?Brien, Alison McCutcheon and Lauren Bauer, among a host of other greats.
The good news for UA is that six position starters and its All-American pitcher are back, and all seven have shown flashes that they could be a top player in the Conference of Champions.
In the infield, junior third baseman Jenae Leles has started all but one game at the hot corner in the last two years and is coming off a postseason in which she batted. 389 with 13 RBI in as many games.
At shortstop, Kˇ?Lee Arredondo started all 65 contests for UA ?C primarily in left field ?C last year and the 2007 All-Pac-10 honorable mention is returning to her natural position after learning to play outfield in ˇ?07.
On the right side of the infield, juniors Sam Banister and Laine Roth likely will share first base and designated player duties for the third consecutive year, but the pair could be pushed for playing time by several newcomers. Banister heated up in the back half of 2007, as evidenced by her .300+ batting average over the last two months of the season, a pair of game-winning hits against Washington and two multi-hit games against national player of the year Monica Abbott. Roth led UA in on-base percentage (.458) during Pac-10 play and clubbed a pair of postseason home runs.
UAˇ?s battery consists of seniors Taryne Mowatt and Callista Balko who should provide a steady hand with Candrea on sabbatical, and new pitching coach Gale Bundrick working with UAˇ?s hurlers.
Senior outfielder Adrienne Acton is UAˇ?s only returning true-slapper and brings the highest returning batting average at .294. UAˇ?s nine-hole hitter and right fielder for the last two and a half years likely will shift to center field for her final campaign.
WELCOMING THE NEWCOMERS:
Arizona brings in seven newcomers to the 19-player squad, including five freshmen and two transfers. The freshmen consist of first baseman Corinna Gonzalez, second baseman Victoria Kemp, outfielder Brittany Lastrapes, outfielder Lauren Schutzler and pitcher/outfielder Lindsey Sisk, while senior pitcher Jennifer Martinez and junior outfielder Jessica McNamara are the transfers. Martinez will redshirt the 2008 season after transferring in from Cal State Dominguez Hills, and McNamara comes from Pima College.
This year, five of Arizonaˇ?s 19 players are local products ?C including four of the Wildcat seniors. Senior Adrienne Acton (Marana, Ariz.) is joined by classmates Callista Balko, Cyndi Duran Danielle Rodriguez, and junior Jessica McNamara as Wildcats who hail from Tucson.
REPRESENTING THE OTHER RED, WHITE AND BLUE:
This spring, fans across the country can see former Wildcat greats Jennie Finch, Lovie Jung, Alicia Hollowell and Caitlin Lowe suit up for the U.S. Womenˇ?s National Team as it prepares for the 2008 Summer Olympic Games in Beijing. The defending gold medalists made up of 18 of the nationˇ?s best players are led by UA head coach Mike Candrea and will play 60 games in over 40 cities in the coming months.
Current Wildcats Kˇ?Lee Arredondo, Brittany Lastrapes and Lindsey Sisk played for the U.S. Junior Womenˇ?s National Team this past year, and Lastrapes was named the MVP of the ISF Junior Womenˇ?s World Championships in the Netherlands.
ARIZONA SOFTBALL ATTENDANCE:
In 2008, not only will the Arizona softball team be able to call itself back-to-back national champions, but so will its fans. For the second consecutive year, the Wildcat faithful led the nation in home game attendance with an average crowd of 1,534 per date and a total of 44,487 fans. Throughout the season, fans will have the opportunity to be a part of softball history, as Hillenbrand Stadium nears 500,000 fans in cumulative attendance dating back to 1993. Entering the season, Hillenbrandˇ?s aggregate attendance figure stands at 464,104. With 1,845 season ticket holders signed up for what promises to be another exciting year of Wildcat softball, the goal of a half million fans is in sight.
Call (520) 621-CATS or log on to arizonaathletics.com for ticket information.
The Arizona coaching staff signed three high school seniors to National Letters of Intent during the November early signing period. Kristen Arriola (INF, Pacifica High School, Garden Grove, Calif.), Perelini Koria (C, San Pedro High School, Gardena, Calif.) and Karissa Buchanan (OF, Sabino High School Tucson, Ariz.) are expected to enroll next fall.