March 25, 2004
TUCSON - Rita Hillenbrand Memorial Stadium will be packed Friday when Arizona takes on the U.S. Olympic Team and returning coach Mike Candrea. All seats are sold out.
About 50 standing-room-only tickets will go on sale at the stadium ticket office at 4:30 p.m., 90 minutes prior to the 6 p.m. start of the exhibition game.
Hillenbrand holds about 2,500 including the outfield bleacher sections beyond the left field fence. UA officials have installed another smaller temporary section this week beyond right field to accommodate returning Wildcat players featured in the other exhibition this weekend -- Saturday's Alumni Game (12 noon).
The top 10 crowds in Hillenbrand Stadium history each were above 2,700 spectators and the three biggest crowds -- all games against UCLA -- topped the 3,000 mark. The record crowd was 3,227 for the May 9 matchup last season. The Cats drew 3,161 in 2002 and 3,004 in 2001 for games played against the Bruins.
Arizona typically has averaged about 1,500 fans per game in the stadium's 11 seasons. This year, the 12th in its history, the team is on pace to keep up with the tradition, as the start of Pac-10 play looms and bolsters attendance by substantial margins. Last year UA drew an average of 2003 fans in its last 10 home dates, for example.
Aside from the draw of playing the two-time defending Olympic gold medalists Friday, a number of Wildcats play for Team USA -- outfielder Leah O'Brien-Amico (1993-95, 1997), infielder Lovie Jung (2002-03) and pitcher Jennie Finch (1999-2002). Outfielder Nicole Giordano (1998-2001)is an alternate. Plus other former stars are in town for the Alumni Game activities Saturday afternoon.
Mike Candrea is taking a partial leave of absence from his UA duties to be head coach of the team. In his absence, Larry Ray and Nancy Evans have helped lead UA to a 34-1 start.
The school's best streak to open a year was the 1994 team "opening" with a record of 41-1, although agruably the best was in 1998 when the team lost only three games all year and finished with an NCAA-record 67-3 mark.
The game Friday will be videotaped by ESPN and USA Softball for later viewing this summer as part of the 'countdown' to the Olympics, held this year at the games' birthplace in Athens, Greece.