Wildcats prove they are real thing at Coca-Cola Classic

By Eric Wein

Arizona Daily Wildcat

The UA softball team's offense has the same thing that Van Halen has titled its newest release.

Balance.

The Wildcats' lineup has speed at the top and bottom of the order and power in the middle. An order like that is exactly what any softball or baseball coach, for that matter dreams about. And UA coach Mike Candrea is particularly proud of the nine he sends to the plate each game.

"I don't think we're relying on one thing," Candrea said. "The job of the quick kids is to get on base. Then, we have the kids that have to drive them in. You can't have one without the other."

Last season, the Wildcats pounded out an NCAA-record 95 homers but with less speed, those hits brought in fewer runs. These days, Arizona doesn't have to count on its power hitters to come through as much because of that speed.

"When we get those kids on, it's easier to score runs," assistant coach Larry Ray said. "We still are getting them in scoring position and that is the key."

Candrea made an analogy between what his team needs to do to score and what another Arizona team needs.

"Hitting is like outside shooting in basketball," he said. "When they go cold, you have to find a way to manufacture points. If you don't have an inside game to go to, you're in deep trouble. You're relying on (Damon) Stoudamire to can every three-point shot he takes. But he's going to have those days. What's nice about speed is you can always manufacture runs some ways."

On the road again: After sweeping through their six games in the Coca-Cola Classic last weekend in Phoenix, the Wildcats (8-0) venture to College Station, Texas, this weekend to play six games against three teams.

Arizona has a sizable advantage when it's at home, but trips away from Hillenbrand Stadium have them playing in vastly different terrain. This forces the UA to make an adjustment, because few softball programs around the country receive treatment comparable to that which the Wildcats receive, and thus play on shoddy fields.

"Any opposing team that walks into this stadium, they're overwhelmed because of the atmosphere and that's worth a couple of runs for us," Candrea said. "When we go on the road with a so-so facility and 100 people (in the stands), you start worrying how to get through to the kids."

Still, Candrea always thinks his team is up for the challenge.

"I don't care if you have a ball game out in the parking lot, they're going to compete," he said. "That's why they need to get on the road because they need to realize it's not going to be like this all the time."

Arizona will return home March 4 for a two-day tournament against New Mexico and Pacific.

Unfriendly confines: That advantage Candrea talks about when his team is at home must be apparent to opponents.

The UA has had a more difficult time getting the nation's top teams to come to Tucson. Most teams aren't eager to take their lumps on Arizona's field even if the experience may be beneficial.

This season, only five non-conference teams will visit Hillenbrand Stadium. All eight of the Pacific 10 Conference schools with softball teams will venture to Tucson because they are required to.

Who's No. 1?: Good question. Last year, the Wildcats entered their season with the label as the top-ranked team in the country based on an NCAA coaches' poll.

This season, the NCAA has nixed that idea, so Arizona doesn't carry any label regarding its place in the country.

"This year is funny because there are no rankings," Candrea said. "In the preseason rankings, one of the magazines ranked us No. 1. But that really doesn't matter anyway."

Blue Chips: Recruiting is what has built the Wildcats into the powerhouse they've become.

Candrea spends the year scouting 18-and-over softball tournaments while Ray goes to the 16-and-over.

Ray called the bunch who won the 1991 title a virtual group of no-names. But no longer.

"The biggest thing is the quality of athlete we're getting," Ray said. "We're getting the blue chippers now and they're able to do more things. We used to just get the average player. They were very limited in their skills and so there was only so much you could do."

This and that: The Wildcats have averaged 10 runs per game through their first eight. ...

Second baseman Jenny Dalton went on a power trip in Phoenix. She hit four homers, scored eight runs, had eight hits and drove in 11 runs. ...

Krista Gomez, who had two triples last weekend, is the Wildcats' leading hitter with a .522 average so far. Of the seven returning players with 100 or more at-bats, Gomez was seventh last year with a .311 average. Senior first baseman Amy Chellevold, who led the team with a .504 mark, had a .478 average in the tournament.

home from Africa because of malaria, but rather that he was straying from his Catholic calling. Upon returning, his tales of African rituals sound very similar to the Lughnasa festival.

Dancing at Lughnasa is powered by strong acting, but sometimes the script throws water on the flames before it has a chance to get roaring. Deborah Van Valkenburgh as the 38-year-old, riddle-spewing, Maggie Mundy, does a stand-out job. But Maggie seems to be the only three-dimensional character in the play. The other four sisters, Kate, Chris, Agnes and Rose, all seem to be flat and easily described by a few words like Catholic, naive, dreamer and simple, respectively.

Playwright Brain Friel spreads himself too thin with this play. Act one concentrates on a single day at the start of the Lughnasa festival. The actions of that day are paired with Michael's narrations that hint at and at times tell the future. By the end of the first act the Mundy household is on the verge of despair and the second act attempts to neatly tie up all the ambiguities, but ends up just leaving more questions and confusions hanging in the air.

This play is full of symbolism; a broken mirror, a dead rooster, rituals and, of course, dancing. It also explores the struggles of five women in a time when a country was in turmoil between paganism and Christianity and increasing poverty. Unfortunately, Dancing at Lughnasa proves that strong acting and lively dancing don't always compensate for a flat script.

Dancing at Lughnasa plays at the Temple of Music and Art through March 4. For reservations and student rush information call 884-8210.

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