UA¹s O¹Brien makes Olympic team

By Patrick Klein

Arizona Daily Wildcat

The well for the Arizona softball team is starting to look a little dry.

Graduation claimed All-Americans Laura Espinoza and Amy Chellevold, who set national collegiate records for career home runs and hits, respectively.

Another All-American, catcher Leah Braatz, will redshirt the upcoming season due to personal reasons.

And Monday, coach Mike Candrea got another blow when it was announced outfielder Leah O¹Brien was named to the United States national softball team that will compete in the 1996 Olympics.

But Arizona¹s well was deep enough to lose a little water, and as for O¹Brien¹s selection, that was a blow Candrea was happy to receive.

³It was a well-deserved honor for her,² Candrea said. ³She gets a chance to represent the USA.²

Despite the exodus of players, the ¹96 season must be played, and Arizona, winners of three of the last five national championships (and runners-up the other two seasons) has a tradition to uphold.

³We¹re getting tested heavily this year,² Candrea said. ³We¹ve lost some good players, but we can¹t sit back and feel sorry for ourselves. We have to get to work.²

Candrea can always feel good in the knowledge that it could have been worse. Senior All-America second baseman Jenny Dalton and sophomore outfielder Alison Johnsen were also invited to the tryout but were not selected to the team. Junior All-America pitcher Nancy Evans was also selected to attend the tryouts but could not because of a foot injury.

Former Wildcats in Oklahoma City included Susie Parra and Chellevold.

O¹Brien hit .433 her junior year with 62 RBI. In 71 games in the outfield, she made 71 put-outs with no errors. She even did spot duty as a pitcher and logged a 2-0 record.

Her international experience was considered a major advantage entering the tryout, as she led the U.S. team in batting during the Pan American Games qualifying tournament last year in Guatemala.

O¹Brien and Fresno State¹s Laura Berg were the only two collegiate players selected to the 15-member team, which included one high school player.

³The selections depend on who¹s selecting the team and what their likings are,² Candrea said. ³Leah really is one of the best 15 players in the nation. There are just not a huge number of outfielders in her class, but there are a huge number of quality infielders, so some people got caught in a numbers game.²

Her selection does not come without its share of problems. O¹Brien, a senior, is required to stay in Oklahoma City for another week, and the team may travel to Australia in November for a series of games ‹ a lot of time away from school for a student.

Candrea said the time constraints the selection process places on college students was one of his main problems with the process.

³It¹s insensitive to college kids ‹ (O¹Brien) has to stay in Oklahoma City another week and then possibly travel to Australia in November,² Candrea said. ³It¹s infeasible to ask her to drop out of school for a year.

³This is the first time a team has been selected, and I think the second time around the process will be improved, because those glitches need to be worked out.²

As one of the coaches who worked out the players during the tryout, Candrea was duly impressed by the number of quality athletes who competed for the team.

³With the amount of talent that was there,² Candrea said, ³we could have picked two teams that can win the gold medal.²

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