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Stage set for softball

EMILY REID/Arizona Daily Wildcat
Softball head coach Mike Candrea speaks with reporters at yesterday's media day. Freshman Alicia Hollowell (right) is one of the young pitchers that will try and fill the shoes of departed two-time National Player of the Year Jennie Finch.
By Ross Hammonds
Arizona Daily Wildcat
Wednesday Januay 29, 2003

Wildcats ready to resolve pitching uncertainty in early season tournament

Focus is once again falling on the pitching mound in Hillenbrand Stadium.

But now, there is no two-time National Player of the Year under the spotlight.

In his 18th year, head coach Mike Candrea has some young talent to showcase this season, and it began yesterday with media day.

"They're tired of practicing," said Candrea of his team. "This team is unproven. I'm anxious to see how the pitching staff performs."

There is no doubt that Candrea is one of the premiere coaches in college athletics, let alone softball. Already selected to lead the 2004 Olympic team to Athens, Greece, Candrea has put up a record of 926-184, becoming only the fifth coach in Division 1 history to reach 900 wins. He has led his team to six national championships and six Pacific 10 conference championships while appearing in 16 consecutive NCAA Tournaments and 15 Women's College World Series. There is no denying that resume.

The main question mark this season seems to be falling on the shoulders of freshmen pitchers Alicia Hollowell, along with three other freshmen. Hollowell was the Gatorade National Player of the Year as a senior in high school and a two time All-American.

"It's exciting," said Hollowell. "All fall we've prepared, it's nice to finally play a team."

And she is not concerned with the precedent that has been set.

"When I'm on the field, I just throw the ball."

Hollowell will have some experience behind her. In the infield, the team is anchored by senior shortstop Lovieanne Jung and senior Lisha Ribellia, a solid glove at second base.

"It's going to be a learning curve for our freshmen pitchers," said Jung, who hit .361 last year with 16 home runs. "They'll have to learn to take losses. We all have to stay focused."

The first test of this season will come when the team travels to Tampa, Fla., for the season-opening USF-Louisville Slugger Tournament.

"This is going to be very important," Ribellia said of the tourney. "It'll put a little bit of pressure on."

When you go to the national championship game two years in a row, winning one, expectations are going to be high.

Junior Mackenzie Vandergeest was in those games and understands what it takes and is going to have inexperience hitting her glove this season.

"A lot of it has to do with confidence," Vandergeest said. "I'll have to show by action."

Vandergeest, along with Jung, was named to the USA National Team for last summer.

"I look up to them a lot," said freshman Autumn Champion. "The best part about them is that they are willing to teach."

For sophomore outfielder Courtney Fossatti, staying healthy is going to be a test. Fossatti broke her foot in February last season.

"It was definitely difficult," she said. "I'm excited for this year, I have a bad ankle and I'm hoping it doesn't limit my play."

There is no problem where the leaders and experience are going to be.

There is one thing Candrea said about the season: "Time will tell."


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