By Kim Morter

Arizona Summer Wildcat

After three national titles in four years, it would be understandable if any team's fans became spoiled by the sweet taste of success.

Typical fan responses might be along the lines of, "Yeah, what else is new? They've dominated year after year. It's not like they could have lost."

This may be the expected reaction from some, but quite the opposite has happened for the "Arizona Banshees," better known as the University of Arizona women's softball team.

Upon returning to a crowd of nearly 600 cheering fans who braved the searing 102-degree heat for two hours last Tuesday, the players gave various tributes to their season, their coaches, and each other amid tears and cheers.

Signs were waved above the crowd and a banner graced the left-field wall: "Mike Candrea the John Wooden of College Softball." Candrea/Wooden noticed the sign with a smile.

"Today caps off a shining season," he said. "Coming in here this afternoon brought tears to my eyes."

But Candrea's coaching career is hardly something to cry about.

In his nine seasons at UA, his team has gone to the College World Series seven times. In the past four seasons alone, he has brought home three national titles. But this one was his favorite.

"This is a very special team. There's been a great team effort all year," Candrea said. "I've been blessed with the greatest staff and players in the country. It's easy to see why I have the greatest job in the world."

For the four seniors, the day was a mix of emotions. The thought of leaving her "13 best friends" took its toll on star pitcher Susie Parra.

While her teammates were reminding her that she never cries, she wiped tears from her cheeks.

"The fan support at UA is the best in the country," she said. "You all have made this our 'field of dreams.'"

Parra pitched a one-hitter on Monday against Cal State-Northridge to lead the Wildcats to a 4-0 victory in the championship game.

"It was vintage Parra," said Candrea.

She thought so too: "This was my best game of the season a great way to end up. We peaked at the right time," she said.

The team never really struggled this year their overall record of 64-3 is nothing to scoff at. And not only did their record intimidate their opponents, but so did their pre-game strategy.

Parra said the way the team danced and sang their way through warm-ups before each game may have affected the other teams.

And not once was cockiness a problem, either, said Parra. With six All-Americans on the same team, one would expect an ego here and there. Not so, she said. The team held together long enough to pull it out.

But Parra then told her teammates after the fanfare and trophies that those honors were to be shelved they had nothing to do with the task ahead.

It was time to do some cutting, but no ribbons were involved here.

At the end of the hot rally, the team followed up on a promise they had made to their assistant coach, Larry Ray.

You see, Candrea christened an odd tradition after last year's championship by letting the team shave his head. This year, it was Ray's turn to go under the shears.

The seniors exchanged whacks at Ray's tresses until he was completely bald.

But with Ray's haircut and good-byes over, what's next for Parra?

"I'll be back to school for one more year, helping out with batting practice and keeping myself in shape," she said. The 1996 Summer Olympic Games call.

And next season, the rebuilding begins. Candrea said the younger women, including outfielder Andrea Doty and pitchers Nancy Evans and Leah O'Brien, are "raring to go."

And they had better be. An entire community will be waiting for next year's edition of the "Banshees."

As the rally closed, the emcee's words floated over the crowd: "See you on Opening Day!"

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