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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    In search of eight

    Taryne Mowatt
    Taryne Mowatt

    Complacency. That will likely be the biggest obstacle for the No. 1 Arizona softball team on the road to a second consecutive national championship.

    The Wildcats return nearly every key player from a 2006 squad that won 20 of its last 22 games en route to the title, the program’s seventh in 15 years. With so much firepower returning, as well as the nation’s top ranking heading into the season, head coach Mike Candrea knows that maintaining his team’s desire is key.

    “”You always worry about (complacency), but it’s our job not to allow that to happen,”” he said. “”It is something we have control over, and we’ll take control over it.””

    Maintaining focus will be key as well, with the Wildcats entering the season as the team to beat in college softball.

    Arizona faces a brutal schedule that includes non-conference games against No. 4 Northwestern, No. 13 Texas A&M and No. 18

    Baylor – and then moves into the toughest conference in the country.

    The Pacific 10 Conference features five teams other than Arizona ranked in the national top 10. Another conference team, Washington, is ranked No. 12. And every one of those teams will be gunning for the Wildcats.

    “”We are always working as hard as we can, but now we know everyone is going to come after us, and in order to do what we want to do – which is win another national championship – we’re going to have to work even harder than everybody else,”” said shortstop Kristie Fox. “”I think knowing that people are coming after us is really going to help us do that.””

    Fox, a senior who led the team in home runs and RBIs last season, will spearhead a

    potentially potent offense along with center fielder and leadoff hitter Caitlin Lowe.

    Lowe, a three-time All-American, hit .425 last year and spent the offseason playing on the U.S. Women’s National Team.

    Lowe said she realizes the challenges facing the Wildcats, but that they won’t be anything the team hasn’t seen before.

    “”Being an Arizona softball player, you always have people aiming for you, so it’s really nothing new for us,”” she said. “”We just need to make sure we take nothing for granted.””

    The Wildcats offense returns all but one starter – departed senior Autumn Champion – and figures to be one of the best in the nation. The real question mark is on the other side of the chalk.

    Arizona will be without hurler Alicia Hollowell, a four-time All-American and holder of nearly all the program’s significant pitching records. Replacing her won’t be easy, and that responsibility falls primarily on junior Taryne Mowatt.

    Mowatt proved to be more than capable as Hollowell’s backup last season, compiling a 21-5 record and a 1.28 ERA.

    “”Taryne just needs to be Taryne and go out and pitch and let things take care of themselves,”” Candrea said.

    Mowatt isn’t concerned about replacing Hollowell as the team ace.

    “”I think you need a little pressure to thrive,”” she said. “”I’m excited to go out there and show what I can do.””

    Mowatt moving up to replace Hollowell in the rotation created an opening for the No. 2 pitcher. It was initially thought that freshman Amanda Williams, one of the nation’s top recruits, would fill that void, but undisclosed personal issues have taken her away from the team. It is uncertain if she will play this season.

    Another freshman, Sarah Akamine, has claimed the role of backup pitcher in Williams’ absence.

    With so many question marks on the mound, a solid defense behind the pitcher will be crucial for a successful season.

    “”We relied on Alicia to strike out a lot of people last year, and of course Taryne can do that,”” Lowe said, “”but I think we’re going to have to play a lot more defense.””

    No matter how good the offense turns out to be behind Lowe and Fox, Candrea said pitching and defense are what really counts when it matters most.

    “”Hopefully, our offense will be able to score runs and give us an opportunity to win a lot of ball games, but truthfully, when it comes down to the end, it is going to be pitching and defense that is going to win.””

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