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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

    Eighth championship keeps softball moving

    A hero’s welcome in Tucson. An invitation to the ESPYs for its star pitcher. A visit to the White House to play tee-ball with the president.

    It has been a whirlwind summer for the Arizona softball team since it claimed its second consecutive national championship in June.

    The Wildcats’ popularity soared as their never-say-die attitude in the Women’s College World Series endeared them to even casual sports fans, as Arizona faced elimination five times during its march to the title. With every game broadcasted nationally on ESPN, the Wildcats gained new fans throughout the country thanks to their style of play and propensity for late-game heroics.

    More people tuned in to watch Arizona defeat Tennessee for the title than any other finale in WCWS history, according to www.NCAAsports.com.

    “”It’s been really exciting to see how many people actually watched the games and followed the team’s progress throughout the World Series,”” said UA head coach Mike Candrea.

    And in a show of support rarely seen in women’s sports, nearly 3,000 fans, including Arizona Governor Janet Napolitano, greeted the Wildcats’ return to Tucson in a celebration at McKale Center that was similar to last year’s reception, to which the team arrived in limousines.

    “”It was great to see McKale Center packed because I think these girls deserved a big welcome home, and they got it,”” Candrea said.

    But perhaps no Wildcat’s star shone brighter this summer than that of pitcher Taryne Mowatt.

    Mowatt became the face of the 2007 WCWS because of her stamina and ability to escape jams unscathed.

    She threw more than 1,000 pitches while starting eight games in seven days, setting WCWS records for innings pitched, complete games, strikeouts and victories, and was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player.

    “”Obviously, we would not have accomplished what we accomplished if it wasn’t for the performance of Taryne,”” Candrea said. “”She stepped up and gave us the performance we needed to be able to win the national championship.

    “”Taryne did a remarkable job and showed a lot of heart, a lot of guts and pitched out of tough situations, and I’m very proud of her.””

    Mowatt’s performance propelled her into the national spotlight. Fan mail and Facebook friend requests came pouring in, and Mowatt was nominated for two ESPY’s – Best Female Athlete and Best Female Collegiate Athlete. The team was also nominated for the Undeniable Performance Award.

    “”It’s really different now,”” Mowatt said. “”When people know who I am it’s a lot of fun, and I love it because I want younger girls to look up to me and my other teammates as role models because we want to promote the sport of softball.””

    Her popularity was confirmed at the ESPYs event in Los Angeles, as she won in both categories, beating out several higher-profile athletes, including the WNBA’s Lisa Leslie and Tennessee women’s basketball player Candace Parker.

    “”It was one of the greatest trips I’ve ever been on. I got to meet a bunch of great athletes and we just kind of hung out,”” Mowatt said.

    Backstage Mowatt rubbed elbows with the best in sports and entertainment, including Dwyane Wade, LeBron James, Peyton Manning and LaDainian Tomlinson, as well as Hollywood stars Ashley Judd and Samuel L. Jackson.

    Although a newcomer to the scene, Mowatt felt right at home mingling with the stars.

    “”It was just an environment where everybody’s on the same level and everybody has respect for the things that everyone else has accomplished,”” Mowatt said.

    Perhaps the highlight of the summer came June 27 when the Wildcats trekked to the White House to meet President George W. Bush. The team was not able to meet with him after its 2006 championship season, so members of both teams traveled together to Washington, D.C., to meet with the president and helped coach a tee-ball game on the White House lawn.

    “”Meeting the president … you can’t really explain that,”” said catcher Callista Balko. “”I’m not a person who gets star-struck easily, but I couldn’t even speak.””

    “”It was really, really cool,”” Mowatt said of the D.C. trip. “”We went to a bunch of the monuments and stood in the same rooms that all these great people we’ve studied have been in. It was just a really historical experience.””

    Candrea will take a leave of absence in the spring to coach the USA national softball team in the 2008 Beijing Olympics, just as he did in 2004 when he coached the U.S. to a gold medal in Athens.

    “”I’m very excited about the challenge ahead of me with the Olympic team, but on the other hand it’s awfully hard to leave this team,”” he said. “”But I’ll be here all fall and we’ll enjoy every moment and try to prepare them to win this thing again.””

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