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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Handshakes give softball focus

    Arizona outfielders Caitlin Lowe, right, and Autumn Champion have a unique way to pump each other up before their at-bats and after the No. 1 Wildcat softball team records an out. Lowe, a junior, and Champion, a senior, have been putting their handshakes into use since their high school days at Foothill High School in Santa Ana, Calif.
    Arizona outfielders Caitlin Lowe, right, and Autumn Champion have a unique way to pump each other up before their at-bats and after the No. 1 Wildcat softball team records an out. Lowe, a junior, and Champion, a senior, have been putting their ‘handshakes’ into use since their high school days at Foothill High School in Santa Ana, Calif.

    HOW ABOUT A HAND?

    When the second out of Friday’s game against Long Beach State lit the scoreboard at Hillenbrand Stadium, junior left fielder Autumn Champion of the Arizona softball team turned to junior center fielder Caitlin Lowe and gave her the sign they’d honed in high school.

    Both players swung their right arms downward and then out, a seeming tribute to Wildcat starter Alicia Hollowell.

    Then, having swerved to face the infield, Champion lifted the first and last fingers on her left hand into a formation bearing a strong resemblance to Texas’ “”Hook ’em Horns”” technique. She waved it at junior shortstop Kristie Fox, while Lowe beat her chest to signal the rest of the defense.

    The maneuvers ended in milliseconds, and play continued without stopping. An hour and a half later, the Wildcats walked away 10-0 winners in five innings, off Hollowell’s 16th career no-hitter.

    What secret information resided in the movements of Champion and Lowe? What strategy long formulated between the players leaked out to their teammates, leading in turn to victory?

    “”Our coaches (in high school) always talked about making sure we’re in the game at all times and really noting how many outs there are at all times, so we kind of just wanted to make a fun way of doing it,”” said Lowe, who shared a dugout with Champion at Tustin, Calif.’s Foothill High School from 2000 to 2002.

    Such a vanilla explanation belies the multiflavor nature of the Wildcats’ team handshakes. Since Champion brought her twist on the Arizona tradition as a freshman in 2003, she’s spread it to everyone who’s lined up along the third-base line with her for pregame introductions.

    “”I have one with Caitlin. I have one with (sophomore right fielder) Adrienne (Acton),”” Champion said. “”After every out, everyone kind of tells each other. I’ll go to Caitlin and Adrienne and then (sophomore) Taryne (Mowatt), if she’s pitching, and I’ll go around to everyone.””

    Only one rule floats about the handshakes – each two players have to invent their own and use it only between themselves.

    Lowe and Champion said they’ve kept the same set of handshakes for about the last eight years, through high school and club team play, for no more purpose – besides superstition, Lowe admitted – than to count to two. (More on that third out later.)

    “”That’s the main purpose, but also it adds a little bit of flair and fun to the games,”” Champion said. “”I know that the fans are always like, ‘Oh, I like your little handshakes.’ I know my aunt is constantly obsessed with it.

    “”It’s just kind of one of those things we like to do, to keep us entertained and in the game and always paying attention.””

    The handshake many Arizona fans might recognize came with no outs on the board Friday and with Lowe ready to lead off.

    Champion, on deck and similarly decked out in full uniform and helmet, came toward the plate and met Lowe face to face.

    Standing a foot apart, they engaged in a dizzying dance, complete with crossed taps of the bat, simultaneous mini-swings, a couple hip checks and quick, semi-circle barrel slaps against the heels.

    That handshake, not unlike those

    Arizona assistant coach Nancy Evans shared as a pitcher and infielder from 1994 to 1998, came from a daily mix of familiarity and spontaneity.

    “”It just kind of comes to you,”” Evans said. “”At the beginning of the year, you just have certain body language – some (players) like to be more extravagant than others; some are real subtle, so you can’t tell – but everybody’s different, unique … If you watch, you’ll see differences in arm swings, as far as just handshakes, as far as just little certain ways you clap your hands.””

    As a pitcher and third baseman with the Arizona Heat, Tucson’s National Pro Fastpitch League team, Evans said she uses handshakes only among former Wildcat teammates.

    “”I think it’s more so just the people you’ve bonded with, you’ve connected with, that you have a special relationship with,”” she said. “”Being together your whole career at Arizona, you burrow into that and you create those special friendships, so when we play with the Heat, it carries over.””

    Evans said that as a freshman, she was asked by older players to develop handshakes, and estimated that the tradition started around then.

    “”I’m not sure where it started, if it was (in) college,”” she said. “”Young kids grow up idolizing college players, see that and try to carry it over into their age ball. I could see that just flowing down the line and spreading that way.””

    Arizona assistant coach Larry Ray said he had never seen softball handshakes when he and Wildcats head coach Mike Candrea started coaching in Tucson in the mid-1980s. Now, the routine is a recruiting trip staple.

    “”As long as it doesn’t interrupt the flow of the game, I don’t care,”” Ray said.

    When the 15th out Friday slammed into the glove of sophomore catcher Callista Balko, Hollowell celebrated her ninth win of the season as usual – by jogging back to the dugout. Champion and Lowe, meanwhile, did nothing. Nothing special, anyway. They don’t have a handshake for the third out of an inning.

    Instead, with another tradition beckoning – Candrea addresses the team in an on-field circle after every game – they removed their playing gear and met their teammates in a walk to left field.

    When freshman third baseman Jenae Leles finally joined them, fresh off a two home-run night and a quick postgame interview, a high five from each player awaited her.

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