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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Everybody loves Ray

    Interim softball head coach Larry Ray hits a ball for infield practice yesterday. The Wildcats will open up their season in the Kajiwaka Classic in Tempe Feb. 15, without legendary head coach Mike Candrea, who will coach the USA Olympic softball team in Beijing.
    Interim softball head coach Larry Ray hits a ball for infield practice yesterday. The Wildcats will open up their season in the Kajiwaka Classic in Tempe Feb. 15, without legendary head coach Mike Candrea, who will coach the USA Olympic softball team in Beijing.

    Trying to fill the big shoes of a previous coaching legend isn’t an easy task – just ask UA men’s basketball interim head coach Kevin O’Neill.

    But O’Neill isn’t the only coach on campus who has to fill in for a legend this year.

    Arizona softball head coach Mike Candrea, who could possibly go toe-to-toe with Lute Olson in terms of total accomplishments, will be taking an eight-month partial leave from the No. 1 Arizona softball team this year while he coaches the U.S. Olympic Softball team in Beijing this summer.

    Candrea, who has won eight national titles with the softball team while being named the Pacific 10 Conference Coach of the Year 10 times, is still expected to be at 17 of the team’s games.

    Candrea guided the Wildcats to two consecutive national championships for the first time since 1996-97.

    “”When you think of John Wooden and all the great coaches, that’s how I think of coach Candrea,”” said former standout pitcher Jennie Finch, who played under Candrea from 1999-2002 while leading the team to a national championship in 2001.

    The only time the Wildcats have not made a Women’s College World Series appearance since 1987, Candrea wasn’t even at the helm – in 2004, the last time he coached the Olympic team to a gold medal in Athens, Greece.

    Filling in for him will be interim head coach Larry Ray, a 17-year veteran on Candrea’s staff who filled in during the 2004 season.

    It will be far from an easy undertaking, but he remains confident.

    Ray led the softball team to a Pac-10 championship in 2004 – boasted by a 55-6 record – but the team failed to reach Oklahoma City for the first time in 17 years. Ray was head coach at Florida from 1997-2000, where his teams went a combined 169-106.

    “”I have done it before and it really isn’t much different than what I have done in the past,”” Ray said. “”Really not much has changed. I am just trying to make this as easy of a transition for the players as possible.

    “”Our expectations (entering the season) are the same every year, and that is to be playing on the last day of the season in Oklahoma City.””

    With Ray at the helm and Candrea as an onlooker yesterday, the Wildcats began working back into their usual practice routine in preparation for their season-opener in the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe on Feb. 15.

    The Wildcats have been back to practice for almost two weeks, but Ray said up until yesterday they were “”trying to get the kids back into the swing of things.””

    “”We usually take a few days to get the kids caught up and get them used to the feel of the field and get their timing back,”” Ray said.

    Ray added that starting this week the team will “”start to hit the ball a little more and including more of their offensive scheme and defensive stuff.””

    Though Ray has coaching techniques that may differ from Candrea’s, the interim coach maintained that it is still Candrea’s program and that he is going to try his best to do things in the same manner they have been done in the past.

    Arizona standout pitcher Taryne Mowatt said not having Candrea around on a daily basis is going to pose some difficulties, but she remains just as confident in Ray’s abilities.

    “”Practice has been going pretty good. It has been a little different but I think everyone is still working pretty hard,”” she said. “”I think one of the biggest differences is that coach Ray doesn’t talk as much in a group setting like coach Candrea. But overall their philosophies are the same and it really isn’t that big of a difference.””

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