Jan. 18, 2012
TUCSON - The Arizona softball team spent Friday and Saturday facing the mental and physical trials of military training at Davis-Monthan Air Force Base.
"It was pretty intense," said Head Coach Mike Candrea. "There were some leadership exercises, some communication exercises and a lot of teamwork. It was about breaking them down mentally, and then building them back up again at the end. I can tell you they earned their stripes; they did a heck of a job."
Designed to expand the mental and physical limits of each player individually, the drills, in reality, stressed togetherness and developed team chemistry previously unreachable.
"It brought them very, very close," said Candrea. "It's amazing, in 22 hours, what they did as far as teamwork. It's amazing what they're like right now. I think it's going to be very important. Ultimately, it's going to give us a little bit of an edge."
"It brought them very, very close. It's amazing, in 22 hours, what they did as far as teamwork."
"If one person makes a mistake, the whole team pays for it," said junior infielder Brigette Del Ponte.
"We really learned that we are a team, and if one person is out of the loop, it's not going to work," said senior outfielder Karissa Buchanan.
"We have to be more concerned with the team we are ourselves," said senior outfielder Nicole Bryan.
For the days and weeks leading up to the journey, Candrea and the coaches kept the specifics of it a secret.
"We didn't know what to expect going in, so we were nervous," said junior pitcher Kenzie Fowler.
"It was not what I expected," said Del Ponte. "It was not so much a physical test as it was a mental test. They would beat you up, tear you down and then try to get you back up again. It was interesting."
The team bussed there Friday afternoon and was met by Sergeant Master Howard, the Chief Master Sergeant of the air force base. That is when the intensity began.
"Right from the get-go, right when we got off the van it was constant focus and attention," said Fowler. "It was definitely something I had never done before."
Buchanan concurred. "Right from the start it was people screaming in your face and everything had to be perfect."
"It was a different atmosphere than anything we're used to," added Bryan.
From there, the team was introduced to "tent city," meant to emulate the boarding on a battlefield. The girls were given only sleeping bags. This is where the girls met their drill sergeants and began to train.
"The drill sergeants got in their face and broke them down for the next 18-20 hours," said Candrea.
The team did an obstacle course with the Marines, an event that many players enjoyed.
Del Ponte, Bryan and Buchanan described the obstacle course as their favorite part of the two days. "It was fun and it was more physical stuff that we're used to," said Bryan.
The boot camp experience would not be complete without an early wakeup call. The team was awoken at 4 a.m. the next morning. They perfected their newly-learned marching technique on their way to a communication exercise. Their incentive to passing the exercise was breakfast and a hot shower.
"They passed it the first time," said Candrea.
A special moment for the team occurred when it learned the military's flag raising ceremony.
"It was an almost emotional thing for all of us," said Fowler. "It was beautiful; the sun was coming up and music was playing. We were in charge of making sure the flag went up the right way, representing all of Davis-Monthan. So that was a really proud moment for me, personally."
The team heard from a pilot whose plane was shot over Baghdad, forcing her to land her A-10 without hydraulics.
The day culminated with a softball game against some of the people on the base.
Overall, the team enjoyed a very successful and memorable trip. It was an important experience that taught the individuals a lot about themselves, their teammates and the importance of the concept of the team.
"All of us learned a number of things," said Fowler. "Hustle, urgency, teamwork, focus, communication, leadership, discipline and just so many things factored into what we did from the second we stepped out of the van."