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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Softball antsy for season opener

    UA softball head coach Mike Candrea tosses a ground ball during practice on Tuesday at Hillenbrand Stadium. Candrea returns to Arizona to lead the Wildcats this season after taking last year off to take charge of the U.S. Olympic team.
    UA softball head coach Mike Candrea tosses a ground ball during practice on Tuesday at Hillenbrand Stadium. Candrea returns to Arizona to lead the Wildcats this season after taking last year off to take charge of the U.S. Olympic team.

    The majority of the collegiate softball world would love to be ranked No. 7 in the preseason, but for Arizona, that only means there is much to prove.

    Entering play for the first time this season, the No. 7 Arizona softball team will head to Tempe on Friday and play five games over a three-day period in the Kajikawa Classic. Overall, players and coaches are itching to face some outside competition.

    “”We’ve done about everything we can in practice,”” said UA head coach Mike Candrea, who is returning after a year of coaching the U.S. Olympic softball team. “”Right now, it’s a matter of going out and finding out how we stack up against other people.””

    The Wildcats will play two games apiece on Friday and Saturday, before their finale against UC-Santa Barbara on Sunday.

    After taking on Kansas and UTEP on Friday, the biggest test in their first week of competition will come Saturday.

    The Wildcats will play the No. 9 Northwestern squad at 10 a.m., then turn around to duel with No. 23 Nevada at 12:30 p.m. Without a feel for how his team will take shape in competition, Candrea remains skeptical about making expectations either too high or too low in comparison with the opposing teams.

    “”I just know that it’s going to be a very competitive weekend,”” he said. “”I feel right now that we have so many questions to get answered that I don’t know if there’s anyone that we can overlook.””

    On the other hand, Candrea’s players were more open about their own expectations.

    “”We definitely want to make a statement,”” said pitcher Lindsey Sisk. “”We’re not just going to be: ‘Oh yay, we’re starting.’ We want to come out and dominate, and hopefully we do that.””

    A question surrounds Sisk and the team: will the inexperienced pitching staff – who relied on ESPY winner Taryne Mowatt last year – be good enough to take the team deep into the postseason? It also remains to be seen who will be the leading members of that staff.

    Sisk holds a slight edge over junior Sarah Akamine and red shirt senior Jennifer Martinez, Candrea said.

    All three pitchers will likely see time as the team tries to find its identity and the players gain valuable experience. The coaching staff will also fiddle with lineups across the board, looking for one who can produce on both sides of the ball.

    “”We’ve got a lot more depth, flexibility that we can look at,”” Candrea said. “”It’s going to be an opportunity to try some different things.

    “”More importantly, with this team, you have to somewhere find the balance between their defensive abilities and their offensive abilities,”” he added. “”We’re going to score some runs but we have to play defense, too.””

    But amid the unanswered, there are two players who Candrea and his staff will undoubtedly be happy to use.

    Senior Jenae Leles and sophomore Brittany Lastrapes both garnered enough attention last year to be included on the national player-of-the-year watch list for this season. In 2008, Leles tied for the team lead with 49 RBIs while Lastrapes led the offense with a .364 batting average.

    While the coaches toss and turn trying to form a solid lineup, the players have just one thing on their minds: proving to critics that this version of the Wildcats will be just as successful as the many great teams that came before them.

    “”We’re very excited to start the season,”” Sisk said. “”We’re going to do great. We’ve worked very hard and put in a lot of hours in this bullpen and we’re ready.””

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