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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat


Return to glory on tap for Arizona Wildcats softball

Pearl Dixon

Heading into the 2017 season, expectations for the Arizona Wildcats are the highest they have been since 2010, when the Wildcats last made it to the Women’s College World Series. The Wildcats reached the NCAA Tournament for the 30th consecutive year last season, tying Fresno State for the all-time record. Arizona enters 2017 as the No. 10 ranked team in the USA Today/NFCA Division I Softball Coaches Preseason Poll.

They came up one game short of making the world series in their super regional matchup with the Auburn Tigers. The Wildcats were able to force the Tigers to a third and deciding game but fell just short of the win. This season, Arizona has one goal in mind: Return to Oklahoma City and compete for a national championship.

The Wildcats lost just one player from 2016 and are fully loaded to start 2017. Arizona is bringing back the core of last year’s team with eight returning seniors.

The returning players are receiving a much-needed boost from the freshmen recruiting class that was rated No. 3 in the nation, according to FloSoftball. Arizona head coach Mike Candrea said that the recruiting class provides him with a weapon that he did not have last year: depth.

“I like our roster,” Candrea said. “I think our roster probably has the most quality depth I’ve had … It’s a very competitive group. This group likes to compete.”

After spending night after night with the same holes in his 2016 lineup, Candrea will have the luxury of mixing and matching this season.

With the added depth on the roster, senior Katiyana Mauga said this could be the team that can put the Wildcats back in the national championship hunt.

“As a team, I expect to go all the way and win a national championship,” Mauga said. Mauga, one of the eight seniors on the team, is chasing history herself.

Mauga is the only player in NCAA history to hit 20 or more home runs in each of her first three season. Mauga sits at 67 home runs, the only active player within the top 10 all-time, and she is only 20 home runs away from tying the Arizona school record at the start of the season.

In 2011, Arizona’s Stacie Chambers set the Arizona record with her 87th home run. She’s in third place on the all-time list behind Lauren Chamberlain, who owns the record with 95. Mauga’s chase began this weekend when she belted four home runs, putting her at 71.

With focus on Mauga and her chase, it’s easy to forget that the Arizona lineup is dangerous outside the San Diego native. Mauga said the versatility the freshmen bring to Wildcats is crucial to their success this season.

“We’re very versatile,” Mauga said. “We have lots of lefties, righties and power hitters. I think a lot more depth makes us more competitive. Having the depth will definitely help me reach that goal. Last year I felt cheated; they made me walk a lot. This year, the pitchers are going to have to pitch to me.”

While the Wildcats enter the season with sky-high expectations, they are playing in an extremely competitive Pac-12 Conference. Oregon (10), Washington (9), UCLA (13) and Utah (23) all come into the season nationally ranked and capable of winning the conference title.

Besides what should be a difficult conference schedule, the Wildcats will face some of the top teams from around the country. Non-conference matchups against defending champion and No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 3 Florida State and No. 23 Baylor, highlight the non-conference schedule that should challenge the Arizona Wildcats.

On top of a roster that is stacked all across the board with talent, Arizona will be returning two of the Pac-12s most dominant pitchers, senior Danielle O’Toole and sophomore Taylor McQuillin. This elite duo combined for 38 wins last season and were both recognized as top performers in the Pac-12. O’Toole was a first team All-Pac-12 performer, and McQuillin was part of the All Pac-12 freshmen squad.

After a stellar freshman campaign, McQuillin has her sights set on surpassing last season’s success, as the sophomore now has a full collegiate season under her belt. McQuillin said this year’s version of the Wildcats has the potential to go the distance, and it’s because they believe in themselves.

“I think we’re going to come out stronger than we did last year. I don’t think people knew who we were last season, there wasn’t much film on the two of us. We’re much more confident than when we came out last year.” McQuillin said.

After a breakout debut season, O’Toole is suiting up for her final season in a Wildcats uniform. After a year where she led the Pac-12 in wins with 26, O’Toole attracted the attention of the United State Women’s National Team, finding herself a spot on that coveted roster.

Many comparisons have been made about O’Toole and former Arizona softball legend Jenny Finch. Entering her last season, O’Toole spoke about creating a legacy of her own.

“I hope when I leave they can talk about me in a positive way,” O’Toole said, “that I left a good mark on the freshmen, sophomores and juniors, that I’m remembered as a good person who kept the tradition going.”

O’Toole, who is not only considered one of the Pac-12s top pitchers but one of the best aces in the nation, figures to be leading the charge for the Wildcats in 2017.

With All-American players inside and out of the circle, the No. 10-ranked Wildcats are poised to go as far as their star seniors can take them, and they’ll have plenty of help along the way. Mauga hopes that the success the senior class has had during their time at Arizona rubs off on the younger players, who can continue to carry on the Arizona softball legacy.

“Us seniors left our mark here,” Mauga said.

Mauga knows the senior class was able to leave their mark, but it will take the entire Wildcats roster to return Arizona to softball supremacy.

Follow Noah Sonnet on Twitter.

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