Arizona will head to Tempe to kick off the 2012 season at the Kajikawa Classic
A 30-year veteran of coaching, Larry Ray returns for his 21st year as top assistant to Mike Candrea at Arizona.
This will be his 11th-consecutive season after a five-year hiatus during which Ray guided the University of Florida softball team through its inaugural four seasons.
With Mike Candrea on leave to coach the U.S. Olympic team in 2008, Ray - in his second stint as interim head coach - accomplished the feat that had eluded his 2004 club: earning a trip to Oklahoma City for the Women's College Word Series. In the Tucson Super Regional, Ray conquered the team that had dealt him a punishing blow in the `04 Tucson Regional, Oklahoma. A 5-2 victory in deciding game three sent the Cats back to Oklahoma City for the 20th time.
Eight years ago, Ray led Arizona to a sparkling 55-6 record and a Pac-10 Championship. The Wildcats' 53-4 regular season record is one of the best in program history, as UA has lost less than four regular-season contests just twice since the NCAA adopted fastpitch softball as a championship sport.
During his 2004 season as head coach, 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 129 stolen bases remain its highest tally in the 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.
Between his work at Florida and the two campaigns at Arizona, Ray holds a 265-131 (.670) career record in six years of competition as a head coach.
A renowned instructor of slap-hitting, Ray's tutoring has coached some of the best slappers in collegiate softball history. His guidance of Caitlin Lowe helped the four-time first-team All-American land the role of leadoff hitter for the U.S. Women's National Team
Another one of Ray's acclaimed slappers, Autumn Champion - the 2004 national batting champion - completed her eligibility with the fourth-highest batting average in Arizona history. During the 2006 campaign, Champion became just the seventh 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.
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 SEC 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 Women's College World Series teams.
Before coming on board in his stint with the Wildcats, Ray compiled a 70-13 record in four years as softball 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 fastpitch as a middle infielder. He has produced a number of successful instructional videos on coaching techniques for slap hitting and the short game.
Ray and his wife, Dawn, have a daughter, Bree, 21, and son, Taylor, 20. Bree graduated from Canyon del Oro High School, where she started for the Dorados' 4A state champion softball team. Ray's son Derek and his wife Melissa have two young girls, Jayden and Lexi.