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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Fowler’s field of dreams

    Sheldon Smith/ Arizona Daily Wildcat

UA Softball pitching recruit from Canyon Del Oro High School, May 2, 2009.
    Sheldon Smith
    Sheldon Smith/ Arizona Daily Wildcat UA Softball pitching recruit from Canyon Del Oro High School, May 2, 2009.

    Pitchers who don an Arizona uniform have been some of the most dominant to ever step in the circle in collegiate softball. Nancy Evans, Jennie Finch, Alicia Hollowell and most recently Taryne Mowatt have all left a legacy at Hillenbrand Stadium. And 2009 recruit Kenzie Fowler has been there to see the line of Wildcat pitching greats lead to her name, as UA head coach Mike Candrea may have found the next Arizona ace right in his own backyard.

    Simply stated, Fowler is the real deal. The 2008 softball Gatorade Player of the Year and Canyon del Oro High School senior has led her high school team to two state titles and her pitches top out at speeds faster than Finch threw during her days in Tucson.

    At just over 6-feet tall, Fowler is a powerful pitcher who knows how to strike out batters. Her interest in the UA was planted at an early age with ties to the program dating back to her maternal grandfather, who shared an office with Candrea at Central Arizona College. Attending summer camps with Candrea as a young girl, Fowler was quickly placed on the Wildcat radar.

    The Fowler family has had season tickets at Hillenbrand Stadium since Kenzie was just 5 years old. Even though she received offers from every school in the ultra-competitive Pacific 10 Conference, it was no surprise to her family when she verbally committed to Arizona as a sophomore in October of 2006.

    “”Everyone from my family has graduated or attended UA at some point – it’s kind of destined in a way,”” Fowler said. “”I was really young when I verbaled, but it has always been my dream since I was a little girl watching U of A play.””

    But after her verbal commitment, Fowler’s dream of attending the UA and being a part of the team she had grown up watching seemed unquestionable until the spring of 2007.

    “”In February (2007) we were playing at Flowing Wells, and she had some pains in her lower back and had trouble catching air,”” said Kelly Fowler, Kenzie’s mother. “”That’s when we tracked it all the way back.””

    Although they did not know it at the time, Fowler was suffering from thoracic outlet syndrome, which caused the blood flow between her arm and her ribs to shut off. The symptoms popped up again throughout the spring, including an incident where Kenzie’s pitching arm doubled in size and turned purple.

    She required four rounds of surgery on her right arm extending from late May until early June. Her doctors removed several series of blood clots, adding up to seven inches total. In all, Fowler spent two weeks in the hospital and more than a year rehabbing her pitching arm.

    “”It was something that was really hard to overcome, to be honest,”” Kenzie said. “”I had to work really hard to get my strength back and my endurance back. It was a year-and-a-half process.””

    After avoiding the run in with this potentially deadly disease, softball took a back seat for Fowler, who focused on regaining her strength and making sure her arteries stayed clear. Her alarm caught local and national attention, especially that of the Arizona coaching staff. The uncertainty that surrounded Kenzie’s life not only left her college softball career in the air, but it also made her family question if she would ever step in the circle again.

    “”What kept her alive is that her body had grown an artery – a little vein – that was carrying oxygen,”” Kelly Fowler said. “”We didn’t even know if she was ever going to get to play again – ever.””

    Kenzie’s recovery process took personal trainers, doctors, endurance training and physical therapy, but one thought remained on Fowler’s mind: playing ball for the Wildcats.

    “”A lot of kids would have given up and not rebounded from it, but that that wasn’t enough for her,”” said Amy Swiderski, Kenzie’s high school coach. “”She wanted to play through it. This game is that important for her.””

    The dream has come full circle for Fowler. She already has one foot in the door at the UA. In addition to signing early, her USA Junior National team experience has already introduced her to a variety of current Wildcat starters, including sophomore Brittany Lastrapes and juniors K’lee Arredondo and Stacie Chambers.

    Fowler’s pitching dominance will be a welcomed sight to the Arizona rotation. Despite its improved performance throughout the season, the Wildcat bullpen is begging for a consistent starter and a face to once again represent a commanding force in the circle.

    “”I think they’re looking for Kenzie to step right in and be an impact player from the get go,”” Swiderski said. “”I think with her work ethic and her desire and passion for the game, as well as being a die-hard Wildcat, she’s going to be a great addition.””

    Fowler will attend Arizona next fall and will begin training for the Wildcats during fall ball. Her close call with death has not deterred her from continuing to maker her presence felt in the circle and at the plate. Her authority with the bat will also challenge the role of a designated player in the Arizona lineup.

    With her high school graduation quickly approaching, Fowler’s mind rests on August 24, when she will step on the UA’s campus and truly be a Wildcat.

    “”It’s pretty exciting when you get to play for the best coach and the best program in the nation,”” Fowler said. “”That’s pretty much as good as it gets.””

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