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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat



    Arizona Heat softball player Autumn Champion, a former Wildcat, takes off her helmet at third base after tripling in Sundays 7-6 loss to Michigan at Hi Corbett Field. Champion led the squad with a .403 batting average and 18 stolen bases after helping the Wildcats win a national championship earlier in the summer.
    Arizona Heat softball player Autumn Champion, a former Wildcat, takes off her helmet at third base after tripling in Sunday’s 7-6 loss to Michigan at Hi Corbett Field. Champion led the squad with a .403 batting average and 18 stolen bases after helping the Wildcats win a national championship earlier in the summer.

    Some women just can’t get enough softball.

    Autumn Champion, the departed slap-hitting left fielder from last year’s Arizona national championship softball team has just finished another season, this time playing for the Arizona Heat, a Tucson professional softball team in the National Pro Fastpitch league featuring other former Wildcats, including ’06 teammate Leslie Wolfe, ’05 departures Jackie Coburn, Crystal Farley and Shelly Schultz and ’01 senior Toni Mascarenas.

    “”It’s been fun,”” Champion said of the Heat, who went 20-28 and finished sixth out of seven teams in the league. “”It kept me active in softball. I enjoyed the girls on the team and the atmosphere of being in Tucson, which is good.

    “”We kind of have the same fans as Arizona softball games.””

    Champion finished the season with comparable numbers to her Wildcat years. In 72 at-bats, she led the team with a .403 batting average and 18 stolen bases but had only two extra-base hits.

    Wolfe saw far more playing time as a member of the Heat than she did with the Wildcats, as she pitched in half of the games for her new team. She threw 76.1 innings and finished 7-7 on the year with a 2.67 ERA.

    Wolfe mainly served as a No. 3 pitcher behind Hollowell and Mowatt on last year’s team and has been behind Hollowell throughout her UA years.

    “”Alicia did most of the work last year,”” Wolfe said. “”If anything, I was closing a game here or there. Now I get a lot of playing time.””

    “”Playing with Autumn and Jackie is fun,”” she added about Champion and Coburn, the latter with whom she has played softball with for 12 years. “”You’re just so used to each other, which is nice to have a familiar face out there with people you’ve played with for so long.””

    Coburn, who along with Farley was a part of the first class of four-year seniors not to win a championship since the school’s first in 1991, likes her new team because she considers it a step up from college ball.

    “”It’s different,”” Coburn said. “”It’s a lot more professional, and you have a lot more diversity with different schools and older players who have a lot more experience.””

    “”When you go to college you don’t really know what to expect,”” she added, “”but now that you’re out of college, it’s more businesslike.””

    Since there are so many UA ties, it may seem like the Arizona Heat is an extension of Arizona softball, but the former Wildcats can draw several differences.

    “”It’s only kind of an extension from Arizona softball,”” Champion said. “”There are a lot of girls from the U of A, but there are also a lot of others from other schools. It’s a whole new atmosphere, a whole new chemistry from the Arizona softball team. There are some things that are similar, but a lot of things that are different.””

    Said Wolfe: “”I don’t really compare it at all to college ball. It’s a lot more laid-back, a lot more pressure-free. It’s different not having Coach (Candrea) around. It takes a lot of pressure off, although he puts on good pressure.””

    Still, Heat coach Stacy Iveson, an Arizona assistant from 1995-2001 who helped the Wildcats win three championships, is also used to the winning ways of softball.

    As the head coach of Pima Community College, she led the Aztecs to their own junior college national championship this year and notices several major differences from college ball.

    “”It’s quite different because in college you have all fall to prepare,”” Iveson said. “”There is a lot more chemistry on a college team because you put more time into it and you’re together a lot longer.

    “”The level of play is every bit as high though. Some of the top players from every college play.””

    Iveson said that even though Tucson has two teams that won college national championships, obtaining players for the Heat is difficult.

    “”It’s hard because we can only take players who used up all their college eligibility,”” Iveson said.

    Besides competing against NPF teams, the Heat also played games against national and club teams, which included the Southern California Hurricanes and UA pitcher Taryne Mowatt and infielder Sam Banister.

    Champion said that it was not at all strange playing against some of her former teammates, even one of her current roommates in Mowatt.

    “”It’s just a game, and it’s fun,”” Champion said. “”We have fun with each other, so that’s how I kind of look at it.””

    Mowatt pitched in the first game of the Hurricanes’ series in Tucson but then injured her back and sat out the rest of the summer.

    Coburn and Champion both love the chemistry of their new team and think that since many of the players previously came from the Arizona program, there is an added sense of team spirit.

    “”I’ve gained new friendships on this team,”” Champion said. “”It was kind of comforting to come out and play with Leslie and Jackie and even Toni. Toni would come out to our practices a lot, so we were all pretty familiar with her.””

    Said Coburn: “”It’s fun because you’ve been around them and you enjoy playing with them. It just brings a little more chemistry to the team because there’s already a good nucleus of hanging out together.””

    Champion will remain a student at Arizona, as she still has one more year left to complete her elementary education major.

    “”I’m actually kind of excited about this year,”” Champion said. “”This is a big year for me. It will be really nice to have just my main focus of interest on my future now basically. “”I’m living with four girls on the team though, so I’ll have to go to all the Arizona softball games.””

    Coburn and Wolfe, childhood friends, both said they want to keep playing for the Heat for a while but are also testing for the fire department in Phoenix.

    “”I’d like to stay a pro and continue to play in Tucson because I really love it here,”” said Wolfe, who is also still enrolled at Arizona and will be Pima’s pitching coach next season. “”We have good fans and great support so it makes it real fun.””

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