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Fresh fastball phenom

EMILY REID/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Alicia Hollowell leans over the fence to the bullpin at Rita Hillenbrand Memorial Stadium. The freshman has brutalized opponents this season en route to her 24-2 record, 6-0 in Pac-10 play.
By Lindsey Manroel
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Thursday April 10, 2003

Hollowell feels no pressure as ace of Wildcats

She may as well have been born with a halo over her head, because to the Arizona softball team, freshman Alicia Hollowell is an angel.

With the poise and confidence she displays on the mound, it seems as though Hollowell has been pitching in an Arizona uniform for years.

After last weekend's undeniably toughest road trip the Wildcats will face all year under her belt, Hollowell walked away with a three-game weekend sweep over the No. 1 and No. 4 teams in the nation, two shutouts and a .33 ERA.

To any unfamiliar fan who's unaware of her high school legacy, it's hard to believe she's only fresh out of high school and a freshman on the No. 1 softball team in the nation.

Hollowell has dispelled all rumors that her lack of experience or maturity in an Arizona uniform made her unfit for one of the toughest jobs in collegiate softball: to take over a job that former UA pitcher Jennie Finch held last season.

After a weekend that propelled Hollowell and the rest of her teammates to the coveted position as the No. 1 team in the land, the freshman phenom was far from being unnoticed.

And to a girl who describes herself as being shy and unworthy of the praise, she certainly isn't handling being in the spotlight with any less poise or confidence that she displays in her pitching.

"I can handle the spotlight," Hollowell said. "It doesn't mean I'm striving for it, but it won't throw me off at all."

In game three against UCLA, Hollowell was fatigued after pitching, what her coaches described as two exceptional 3-0 shutout performances against Washington and UCLA, and still managed a 5-1 victory in Sunday's matchup against the Bruins.

"If you look at her stats and the outcome, she pitched well. But, she wasn't 100 percent," UA assistant coach Nancy Evans said. "But I know what she's capable of, and she found a way to take what she has, compete and win. It's always a great compliment to your program when a player receives an award."

Hollowell thought her pitching was only mediocre, so it was only natural that the modest freshman, who says she's "the one who gets all the attention because I'm the pitcher in the middle of the field," was surprised when the nods came her way.

"I'm just one of nine players," Hollowell said. "I didn't think I did anything spectacular and it doesn't feel like I deserve it. But I've always been that way."

One award wasn't enough for a job well done, and it would be unlike Hollowell to earn any fewer.

After last weekend, Hollowell received two national titles, the USA Softball National Player of the Week and the Louisville Slugger National Player of the Week.

The Pacific-10 Conference didn't turn its back on a pitcher who successfully knocked off two of the toughest teams in the conference, let alone the nation.

Hollowell was also named the Pac-10 Pitcher of the Week for March 31 April 6.

After all this, Hollowell's still unsure of whether she's worthy of all the praise.

"My teammates are eight of nine people; I'm just one," Hollowell said. "They put the runs on the board and they deserve the recognition."

But Hollowell is the one receiving all the attention, and undoubtedly deserving, after accumulating a season record of 24-2 and a flawless Pac-10 performance so far at 6-0.

"She's a fierce competitor, she's worked harder than anyone on the team and it's nice to see things come her way," UA assistant coach Larry Ray said. "We don't want to over use her, but she wants the ball and we want to give it to her. We've got something special in our hands."

As if being the newcomer on the team wasn't pressure enough, all the weight has fallen on Hollowell's shoulders to lead her team to an NCCA Championship Title, after falling one step short of it last season in a 6-0 loss against California in the title game.

With Finch still sitting in the dugout as a volunteer assistant coach, the pressure of being "the next Jennie Finch," somehow, isn't getting to the 6-foot-1 freshman.

"She doesn't get caught up in the hype or rumors about being a freshman pitcher," Evans said. "She's a team player and that's why her teammates like her so much. Nothing fazes her, and it doesn't matter who we're playing; she gets up for every game."

Hollowell isn't the average freshman, and although she lacks the experience of collegiate softball, she has the drive to compete and the fierceness to bring a national title home to Arizona and her coach, Mike Candrea.

"I want to win a national championship and I want a ring on my finger," Hollowell said. "I just want to be a winner. Anything's in reach for this team; as long as we stay focused, we're capable of anything."

Hollowell and her team take on their conference opponents from Northern California, beginning with No. 11 Stanford on Friday night followed by Cal.

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