Arizona softball to face challenging schedule
Kelsee Becker / Arizona Daily Wildcat
Softball Coach Mike Candrea preparing players for the upcoming season. Arizona Softball will start on February 8 at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Arizona against Northwestern.
Arizona softball will start the season ranked No. 14 in the ESPN.com/USA Softball Collegiate Top 25 and will face a daunting schedule.
The Wildcats will play 23 games against preseason ranked teams, out of 56 total and 11 games against top ten teams.
“The schedule’s good, we always play a good schedule,” head coach Mike Candrea said. “We have some good tests early on.”
UA is No. 13 in the USA Today/NFCA Division I Top 25 Preseason Poll.
“I think it’s kinda good that we’re not as high as we expect ourselves to be because people are kind of under estimating us, but seeing us at practice everyday, I think we’re going to be really good,” junior utility Alex Lavine said.
The Wildcats were ranked No. 13 in both season ending polls last year after they lost to Oklahoma in the Super Regional round of the tournament.
“That’s what I expected after we lost to Oklahoma,” senior shortstop Brigette Del Ponte said. “We got a lot of work to do, we got a lot to prove people wrong and I think it’s more of a mindset for us, that there’s room to improve.”
Candrea doesn’t put much stock in January polls.
“I’m not too concerned about preseason rankings,” Candrea said. “I think our job is just to continue to get better every day.”
In the coaches’ poll, Pac-12 teams are ranked third through fifth, California, Arizona State and Oregon respectively. The USA Today/NFCA rankings feature seven of the nine Pac-12 schools in the rankings inclunding Arizona, No. 16 Washington, No. 19 UCLA and No. 21 Stanford.
In the media poll, the Pac-12 occupies three of the top six, No. 3 Cal, No. 4 ASU and No. 6 Oregon.
“It’s really good, it’s awesome to have your conference have so many teams in the top 20 or the top 10,” Lavine said. “It’s really exciting, it just shows how good you are.”
Arizona plays four teams ranked in the coaches’ poll, No. 2 Oklahoma, No. 10 LSU, No. 14 Florida and No. 15 Michigan.
UA will also play Northwestern, Virginia Tech and Notre Dame, which received votes in both polls.
Del Ponte called the schedule a “blessing.”
“We’ve got a tough schedule all time,” Del Ponte said. “It’s going to be good for us in the long run because come World Series, we’re going to be playing a lot of the teams that are going to be there.”
The Wildcats will open the season with five tournaments, hosting two of them. Arizona kicks off the season with a tournament in Tempe, Ariz. with the Kajikawa Classic next week.
“We play some pretty good teams in these tournaments and it gives us a lot of experience,” Del Ponte said. “People finally get to face live pitching and that’s important to us.”
Then they open the home slate with the Hillenbrand Invitational. Opening Day is Feb. 15 when they play Nebraska and Drake.
Next Arizona travels to Palm Springs, Calif. for the Cathedral City Classic, before returning home for the Wildcat Invitational.
After hosting Boise State for a three-game series, UA goes to the Judi Garman Classic in Fullerton, Calif. before starting league play.
“Our schedule is very competitive, I think in the non conference part and the conference part you know,” Candrea said. “It gets tougher and tougher, it’s good.”
Arizona hosts Washington, Cal, UCLA and ASU and faces Utah, Oregon, Oregon State and Stanford on the road.
During the conference season, the Wildcats play two game sets with UC Santa Barbara and New Mexico State.