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Norma Gonzalez | The Arizona Daily Star | February 8, 2018

Arizona preps for 2018 with young players, moving parts

The Arizona Wildcats will open their 2018 season on Friday with Alyssa Palomino at first base, Taylor McQuillin (likely) on the mound and either underclassmen or new faces just about everywhere else.

This year's squad is young. Coach Mike Candrea's roster includes seven freshmen, seven sophomores, five juniors -- and only three seniors.

Although Candrea said he wasn't sure exactly which players will play which positions when the team opens its season Friday against Northwestern at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, the Wildcats have plenty of depth and can rely on more than one player to fill a hole. The Wildcats are trying to make the Women's College World Series for the first time since 2010; last year's season ended with a stunning upset by visiting Baylor in the NCAA Super Regionals.

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This year's team is "a work in progress that's trying to find their identity," Candrea said. "We have some pieces that will give us a good core, and a lot will depend on how the development goes from here on out."

Sophomore Dejah Mulipola will be the Wildcats' No. 1 catcher. But right behind her are Robyn Porter and Hillary Edior, Candrea said.

Palomino will most likely start at first base after recovering from another knee injury, but Joelle Krist and Edior can also go in when needed. Candrea said Tuesday that Palomino is "95 percent" recovered after tearing her left ACL in May.

Sophomore star Jessie Harper moves to shortstop, a position she played in her high school and travel ball teams, and Malia Martinez will most likely be the go-to player at third base.

In the outfield, Candrea has Carli Campbell, who redshirted last season; Aleah Craighton, a transfer from the University of Louisiana Lafayette; Jenna Kean, a quick freshman; and Ashleigh Hughes, who Candrea said is now playing the best softball of her life .

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"This is a team that there's a lot of different moving parts that can happen, which is good," Candrea said. "A lot will depend on our ability to put our best offensive team out there and keep the defense that we need to be competitive with our pitching."

On the mound, the Wildcats' search to replace ace Danielle O'Toole has led to a familiar face. Candrea said Tuesday that he considers McQuillin the team's ace, with Hanah Bowen, Alyssa Denham, Tamara Statman and Gina Snyder behind her. McQuillin went 16-4 last season as the Wildcats' No. 2 pitcher.

The Wildcats came out in fourth place in the Pac-12 pre-season rankings and, on Wednesday, ESPN released the latter portion of its top 25 softball players in the country. Harper made the list at No. 17, with Craighton at No. 23.

Harper said last year was fun, in part because the veterans helped her along. Now, she'll have a chance to teach others.

"We had eight seniors that really guided us and I owe it all to them," Harper said. "They really showed us the ropes and brought us into the Arizona culture. But to me, it's not really about the standings. It's about a team sport and how we're going to do this season. As long as we're doing good, that's all that matters to me."

This article is written by ngonzalez from The Arizona Daily Star, Tucson and was legally licensed via the Tribune Content Agency through the NewsCred publisher network. Please direct all licensing questions to legal@newscred.com.