The homecoming of head coach Mike Candrea from the 2008 Beijing Olympics had Arizona fans ready for the return of the focus and preparation that defines Wildcat softball. In the end, though, the result was not much different from the Wildcats' 2008 season.
That year, interim head coach Larry Ray took Arizona to the Women's College World Series at ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City, Okla., a great achievement in the absence of Arizona's longtime skipper. However, the Wildcats failed to reach the championship series after claiming the NCAA title in both 2006 and 2007.
In 2009, Candrea helped UA claw its way back to the WCWS, defeating No. 8 Stanford on the road in the Super Regionals and earning its ticket to Oklahoma City for the 21st time. The Wildcats were seeded ninth, but its fortunes would be the same as Arizona's 2008 campaign — an exit after two games.
""You get to this point in the tournament, you have to get good hitting, get good pitching and play good defense,"" Candrea said. ""We just didn't have it.""
The 2009 record-breaking offensive season came to a disappointing end for then-seniors Sam Banister and Jenae Leles. Arizona was swept out of the WCWS for the second straight year after going at least three games deep in each of the previous 17 seasons.
The team's exit was put on a fast track after its offense stalled in their first loss against No. 1 Florida. The Gators, who would advance to the Championship Series, held the Wildcats to just two hits.
""This is the time of the year when you have to do things you need to,"" Candrea said after the 3-0 loss to Florida. ""This team, we just couldn't quite make the adjustments we needed to offensively.""
The offensive struggles would continue two days later when the Wildcats faced Alabama in an elimination game.
The 14-0 loss marked the first time Arizona did not score a run in the WCWS in 19 years, and its worst defeat overall in 28 years.
""It has been our challenge all year,"" said Candrea of Arizona's pitching situation. ""Unfortunately, we couldn't put it together right now. You just can't compete here unless you pitch well.""
An early 10-0 deficit and the standstill at the plate sent the Wildcats back to Tucson after just 12 total innings.
The NCAA title stayed in the Pacific 10 Conference for the fourth year in a row, going to the Washington Huskies.
Coming and Going
Just days after the season ended, Arizona pitcher Lindsey Sisk announced that she was leaving the program in search of more game involvement. Sisk expressed desire for more playing time and said a lack of offensive participation in games where she was not pitching was her reason for leaving.
The addition of local pitcher Kenzie Fowler will certainly address the issue of a depleted pitching staff for Arizona, but the sting of two years of quick defeats has reached a boiling point for returning members of the Arizona softball team.
""I came to Arizona because I'm going to win a national championship,"" said left fielder Brittany Lastrapes after the season. ""If I have to push myself harder and push my team even harder I will. I'll do whatever it takes to win.""
For the Wildcats, the task now is to achieve another return to the Women's College World Series and to learn from their tournament experience.
""Hopefully for the rest of this team, it will be a motivator for them to do the little things that it takes,"" said head coach Mike Candrea during Arizona's final press conference. ""Not only to get back here, but to play well and compete for a national championship.""