Arizona Preps For New Season
Jan. 14, 2009
Courtesy of Arizona
TUSCON, Arizona - The "little things" are the foundation that holds a team together. Hard work, effort, attitude and preparation all help build consistency on and off the diamond. Arizona Head Coach Mike Candrea preaches these methods, and the 2009 version of the Wildcats will need to employ them to bring the NCAA Championship trophy back to Tucson.
The Wildcats used their fall tournaments to determine somewhat of a standing point for the regular season. But what Candrea saw was "a lot of complacency."
"Win, lose or draw, I am huge on preparation, attitude and effort and the little things that you have control over," Candrea said. "When I don't see it, that probably upsets me more than anything else in the game.
"It's the foundation. It's the little things that build the foundation for your team. Sometimes you can disguise those things, but they'll catch up with you. So I want to make sure that this team has a solid strong foundation built around hard work, effort, attitude and preparation."
The 2009 offense will feature six returning starters - each of whom has shown flashes to demonstrate that she could be the next impact player - accompanied by newcomers who could see significant time and make an immediate impact in the starting lineup.
The Arizona outfield will consist of two returning sophomores - Brittany Lastrapes and Lauren Schutzler - and could feature either Tucson freshman Karissa Buchanan or senior Jill Malina. Lastrapes led off the batting order for a majority of last season, while Schutzler saw time as both the two- and eight-hole hitter, but found the most success as the latter.
At .364, the reigning All-American Lastrapes brings the highest returning batting average to a squad that returns six of its top seven hitters. Her strikeout ratio was also the lowest on the team: one in just over every nine at-bats.
The speedy Schutzler committed only one error in 48 chances last season in center field, and her slap-hitting style helped her nab six sacrifice hits.
Buchanan, a heralded local product from Sabino High School, was named to the 2006 NCFA High School All-American second team in her junior year. Candrea says that she rivals Schutzler when it comes to speed on the base paths. As for Malina, "she gets a lot out of her abilities because of her outlook on the game and on life, and the way she goes about her business," Candrea said.
Senior third baseman Jenae Leles anchors an experienced infield that consists of all returners from last year's squad. Leles, who hit a career-high 17 home runs last season, enters the season needing just nine to crack the UA all-time top 10 for home runs in a career. The power-hitting Fair Oaks, Calif. native slugged three homers in the NCAA tournament, more specifically, the Super Regional round against Oklahoma to send the Wildcats to the WCWS. In the process, she wowed many observers with her ability to hit almost anything thrown her way, and the power she was able to do it with. Leles has upped her batting average every season since she became a Wildcat, and boasts improvements in almost every statistical category.
In her first season at shortstop, Tempe native K'Lee Arredondo had the role of filling the shoes of two-time All-American Kristie Fox. Equal to the task, then-sophomore Arredondo batted .298 with 32 RBI on the offensive side, while tallying 81 assists and a .949 fielding percentage defensively. A vocal leader on and off the field, the once-switch hitter batted exclusively from the left side of the plate in 2008. After being tabbed the two-hole hitter during early tournament play, the beginning of conference season saw Arredondo slip to the eight-hole. But as conference season neared a conclusion, she once again solidified her spot at No. 2 and remained there through season's end.
Second baseman Victoria Kemp's freshman season was abbreviated due to a facial injury suffered just 23 games into the season. Prior to this, she hit .227 with 14 RBI and four home runs, including two against UIC in early tournament play. But her sound defense - 21 putouts and 16 assists, with no errors - was what the squad missed the most in the middle infield down the stretch. Kemp returned after missing 21 straight games to finish the season as a situational hitter.
Freshman Kristen Arriola will also contend for time as the Wildcat second bagger. According to Candrea, "she has a lot of upside and potential, both offensively and defensively." Arriola scored 6 runs in UA's fall tournaments, and tallied two doubles.
With the sophomore Kemp healthy, senior first basemen Laine Roth and Sam Banister will most likely platoon at the position, as they have for the last few years. Roth, a returning All-American, rebounded from a disappointing 2007 season to hit a career-high 15 home runs and end the '08 campaign with a .328 average. She led the team in homers going into the NCAA tournament, and finished the season with career numbers in almost every statistical category. Banister filled in at second base in Kemp's absence and, likewise, finished '08 with nearly all career numbers. The Petaluma, Calif. native hit for a .250 average in the box and socked 10 home runs, doubling her long ball output from the previous two seasons. In doing so, she became the fifth Wildcat to hit 10 or more homers on the squad. Her 20 strikeouts were tied for the fewest among players who played in 50 games or more.
Sophomore Corinna Gonzalez provided some pinch-hit pop in 2008, as she tallied a three-run home run in only her third career at-bat. Gonzalez and Sierra Vista, Ariz. product Alicia Banks should both provide sound support when needed as situational hitters.
PITCHERS AND CATCHERS
Perhaps the biggest question entering the 2009 season is who will be the Arizona ace. Simply put, there is no set No. 1. With the departure of Taryne Mowatt, the Wildcats are left without an All-American in the circle for the first time 1989. But, just as Mowatt had to fill the shoes of Hollowell, who took over after Jennie Finch, who stepped in after Becke Lemke, who replaced Nancy Evans, among a plethora of Wildcat legends - a new star will surface to take hold of the spot.
Though she was recruited as a second baseman, Sarah Akamine provided invaluable support in the circle during her freshman season as a stop-gap pitcher and showed uncanny pop in limited action at the plate. Last season, Akamine tossed effectively in six games, the most memorable of which was a six-hit shutout of then-No. 4 UCLA. The Escondido, Calif. native pitched in an early-season combined no-hitter, and took eventual national champion Arizona State to the brink in a five-hit complete game. She can also prove handy with the bat, as she has slugged 3 HR and 23 RBI in limited at-bats over two seasons.
Sophomore Lindsey Sisk's 10 wins bested Taryne Mowatt's freshman year record, and her 10-2 record coupled with her team leading 1.62 ERA in 20 appearances helped give her the experience necessary to take over the leading role if need be. Sisk was figuratively thrown into the fire in 2008 when, in just the second game of the season, she was called on to take on powerhouse Texas A&M. Though Arizona lost by one on three unearned Aggie runs, the Wildcats knew they had found their future. The Murrieta, Calif. native can also provide support with the stick, as she was called to the plate twice during the season.
Redshirt senior Jennifer Martinez used the 2008 season to grow and hone her skills in Tucson. Having pitched for two different universities, Martinez has plenty of experience and should give the pitching staff some sound relief.
Just as a new star will fill the pitching void, one will certainly have big shoes to fill in replacing catcher Callista Balko. Stacie Chambers broke out for 15 home runs and a team-leading 49 RBI last season, and filled in for Balko during early tournament play. Though she was sidelined for the fall tournaments after wrist surgery, Chambers looks to be 100 percent as the season begins. The Glendale, Ariz. native played in every game in '08, and owned the team's longest hitting streak at 12.
Freshman Lini Koria handled the catching duties during the fall tournaments. The power-hitting California native slammed six home runs in eight games, and also caught every pitch.
"I was very pleased with her offensive abilities, but she will look for improvements defensively," Candrea said, referring to Koria.
Koria holds California's career home run mark at 45, and looks to make a dent in the UA records book right from the get-go.
Senior walk-on catcher Mandy Monge holds the distinction of being the first player in the Candrea era from the state of Massachusetts.
"Mandy did a good job picking things up, but she needs improvement offensively," said Candrea.
If Arizona softball has one legacy, it is executing on the sport's grandest stage with the same precision that is expected in every practice, non-conference contest and Pac-10 game. However, it is the succession of great players who continue to make the plays year after year to bring UA continued results. If nothing else, 2009 is a year wherein that ascension may come from new Wildcat stars.