March 16, 2004
OKLAHOMA CITY - The undefeated Arizona softball team, sporting a 28-0 record and under interim management, moved to the No. 1 spot in the ESPN.com/USA Softball poll today, giving the Cats the top ranking at least once in every season since 1993.
The NFCA (National Fastpitch Coaches Association) poll, the standard in the sport since Division I play began in 1982, comes out tomorrow. Arizona has been ranked in the NFCA poll steadily since 1988.
UA slipped past UCLA (26-1) into the top spot after the Bruins' first loss of the year Sunday in a non-conference game against Oregon State at Fresno, Calif., in the Clovis Auto Row Classic. The Beavers won 3-2 with a seventh-inning rally.
Arizona's ascension gives coach Larry Ray his initial No. 1 ranking. He's the Wildcats' acting head coach during the leave-of-absence of Hall of Famer Mike Candrea, who is serving as head coach of the U.S. Olympic softball team.
Ray was head coach at Florida for five years and with his sparkling start at Arizona is fast approaching a coaching milestone -- his 200th victory. He carries a career record of 197-106 into UA's action at the Kia Klassic tournament in Fullerton, Calif., this weekend. He was a top aide under Candrea at Arizona for 10 years from 1986-95 before taking the Florida job, and returned to the staff before the 2002 season.
In Candrea's absence, the Cats are down a coach in numbers, with acting associate head coach Nancy Evans the only other full timer besides Ray. Candrea's son, Mikel, and 2003 senior second baseman Lisha Ribellia are serving as volunteer student assistants.