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Expectations too high for two UA teams

By Chris Jackson
Arizona Daily Wildcat
April 15, 1999
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Arizona Daily Wildcat

Chris Jackson

For the first time in five years the Arizona softball team was swept in a doubleheader by UCLA this past weekend.

Surprising? Somewhat, but not as much as it would have been last year.

The UA softball team, and its counterpart in the baseball team, are loaded with youth, talent and have therefore been saddled with expectations they cannot likely meet this year.

Youth is something that seems to be on the side of all major UA teams, save the well-balanced football team, and as the basketball teams both showed, it can kill in a pressure situation.

The softball team had only one senior, shortstop Michelle Churnock, who is out until at least regionals with a broken leg. Their starting pitchers are a sophomore and a freshman, both of whom have nonetheless put up solid numbers.

But asking them to win a national title is a little too much.

If they do win it, more power to them, and to head coach Mike Candrea, who would look like a genius-and-a-half if he pulled off Arizona's sixth title this decade.

UCLA, after slumping through probation last year due to using ineligible players on their now-forfeited 1995 national championship team, has rebuilt itself into a considerable powerhouse.

Former UA pitcher and current graduate assistant Nancy Evans, who was the best pitcher in UA history, said, "We've played tougher UCLA teams than the one we played Saturday."

True, but Arizona has fielded better teams in year's past, too, and with such a young roster (one freshman, nine sophomores, five juniors) it's unfair to expect the Wildcats to take home the title in 1999. It might even be unfair to expect them to reach the title game, but they are a better team than Washington and last year's champion, Fresno State, which lost a bit of its strength to graduation.

Besides, Arizona vs. UCLA in the championship has a nice ring to it, considering it's happened five times, with UA holding a 3-2 edge.

But expecting it to happen again this year might be asking too much.

The UA baseball team is in the same boat. Arizona boasts a starting lineup with only one senior, second baseman Andy Juday, who transferred from Kansas. The Wildcats have three regular freshmen starters (Shelley Duncan RF, Ben Diggins P/DH and Kenny Huff LF), plus three sophomores and two juniors who transferred from junior colleges.

The pitching staff's lone senior starter, southpaw Rob Shabansky, blew out his elbow and is done for the year.

Thanks to the NCAA expanding the postseason from 48 to 64 teams, the Wildcats should make it into regionals for the first time since 1993.

Making it to Omaha, though, is a little far-fetched.

The Wildcats have only one consistent power hitter in Duncan, but more importantly, no pitcher has been consistent throughout the year.

So head coach Jerry Stitt went out and picked up a JC transfer, considered the best in Arizona, and a top high school pitcher for his 2000 team.

Both softball and baseball should return with minimal losses in 2000, with their very talented young players a year older and a year wiser.

1999 will be a trial by fire for both teams, especially once they reach regionals.

Both have the ability to win in 1999, but putting too much pressure on them to do so could leave them in the same boat as the basketball team. And neither Stitt, nor Candrea, nor any of their players, wants to deal with the pain of a first round exit.

Chris Jackson is a senior majoring in journalism and can be reached at