A 25-year veteran of coaching, Larry Ray returns for his 16th year at Arizona, this being his sixth consecutive season. In a five-year hiatus, Ray guided the University of Florida softball team through its inaugural four seasons.
A renowned instructor of slap-hitting, Ray’s tutoring has coached some of the best slappers in collegiate softball history. His guidance of senior Caitlin Lowe has made her arguably the top returning offensive player in the country for 2007. While Lowe’s achievements as a three-time, first-team All-American and starter for USA Softball are notable, Ray’s success with slap hitters is hardly uncommon.
In 2006, Autumn Champion ?- the 2004 national batting champion ?- completed her eligibility with the fourth-highest batting average in Arizona history. During last year’s campaign, Champion became just the sixth player in program history to accumulate 300 hits in a career. Of her 314 base knocks, only eight went for extra bases.
That’s the beauty of Ray’s craft ?- opponents know what’s coming and they still can’t stop it. This was no more evident than in Oklahoma City during the 2006 Women’s College World Series. Among Lowe, Champion and Adrienne Acton ?- Arizona’s three slappers ?- the trio compiled a .344 batting average over six games against the nation’s best pitchers. Perhaps even more telling than the fact that Ray’s pupils scored 15 of UA’s 24 runs, is that they reached base on a combined seven infield errors by opponents flustered by the prospect of yet another infield single.
With his 224-112 (.667) record in five years of competition as a head coach, Ray handed the reins of the UA softball program back to Mike Candrea in 2005, after serving as interim head coach during the 2004 campaign. Under Ray’s tutelage, the Wildcats did not miss a beat, as they went 55-6 and captured the Pac-10 Championship in Candrea’s absence.
During the 2004 season, Arizona’s offensive attack took on Ray’s emphasis of finding a way on base and blazing through the base paths, 60 feet at a time. Arizona’s .338 team batting average and 129 stolen bases were its highest tallies in each category since 1998. In fact, the ’98 team’s 136 swiped bags are the only higher team total in the program’s 25-year history.
Before returning to Arizona in 2002, Ray established the UF program and guided the Gators to a 169-106 record in his four years of competition. Florida made the post-season tournament and was ranked in the Top 25 in two of the four years during his tenure.
UF’s 1998 campaign brought Ray considerable regard. Ray led Florida to a 47-22 season, claiming the Southeastern Conference regular-season title, the SEC Eastern Division title and earning the Gator’s first-ever trip to the NCAA Regional Championships. For his efforts, Ray earned Southeastern Conference Coach of the Year honors.
After a year of recruiting and developing team processes for the new Florida program in 1996, Ray led the Gators to a 42-25 inaugural season record (16-8 SEC) in 1997, including a third-place finish in the SEC Eastern Division and a trip to the SEC Tournament Championship game. Florida also split with nationally ranked rivals Florida State and South Florida and defeated No. 12 Oklahoma State, while playing a challenging schedule that included five College World Series teams.
Before coming on board in his stint with the Wildcats, Ray compiled a 70-13 record in four years as coach at Boulder City (Nev.) High School from 1982 to 1985. He took over a program that won just one game over the previous two years to a 17-3 mark and the Class AA state championship his first season. He also coached BCHS to consecutive titles in his last two years with 20-1 and 24-1 marks.
A graduate of Idaho State, Ray lettered as a second baseman in baseball and wide receiver and kicker in football. He lettered two years in football and one year in baseball at West Valley Junior College in Campbell, Calif., (now in Saratoga) in 1968-69 before transferring to ISU. He was the football scoring leader for California junior colleges in 1969.
Ray played in five World tournaments in competitive fast-pitch as a middle infielder. He has produced a number of successful instructional videos on coaching techniques for slap hitting and the short game.
Ray works with left-handed slap hitters, the short game, infielders and recruiting at Arizona.
Ray and his wife, Dawn, have a daughter, Bree, 16, and son, Taylor, 14. Ray’s son Derek and his wife Melissa celebrated the birth of Ray’s first grandchild, Jayden Ray, on Sept. 28, 2005.