Fall is a time of evaluation and experimentation for the Arizona softball team.
UA head coach Mike Candrea will see his Wildcats play its first of seven fall games after less than two weeks of team practice when Arizona hosts Yavapai College at Hillenbrand Stadium at 2 p.m. on Sunday.
""You're always evaluating,"" Candrea said. ""That's a big part of the process.""
Candrea will likely give his upmost attention to right-hander Kenzie Fowler, a heralded freshman who will be Arizona's starting pitcher this weekend. The Tucson native out of Canyon Del Oro High School was the 2008 and 2009 Gatorade National Player of the Year.
Sarah Akamine split time with Lindsey Sisk in the pitcher's circle last season, but Sisk transferred to Texas A&M; and Akamine is recovering from lower-back surgery she underwent this summer.
""This game starts in the circle,"" Candrea said. ""Obviously the stronger you are in the circle, the more success you're going to have in the long run. I thought we did a very nice job last year, utilizing it and developing it, being competitive.""
""But there comes a point in time when you have to have a certain level of talent to balance it out,"" Candrea added. ""And I think (Fowler) brings a very good level of talent.""
Junior outfielder Brittany Lastrapes added, ""I think our biggest gain was our pitching. Last year was just so wishy-washy with our pitching. We had good pitchers, but every other day someone different would come out. It was kind of hard.""
Arizona, which returns seven starters from last season, finished the 2008 campaign with a 46-17 record and its 21st appearance in the Women's College World Series in the last 22 years. The Wildcats blasted an NCAA record 134 home runs — something Candrea said will be hard to match this season with the loss of then-seniors Jenae Leles (23 HR), Sam Bannister (16 HR) and Laine Roth (four HR).
Lastrapes, however, said the Wildcats' offense could be just as good as it was last season.
""Maybe not in the home run category,"" said Lastrapes, who hit 17 home runs in 2008, ""but I'm really impressed with the new people we got and their offense.""
Defensively, Candrea will pay close attention to the corner positions, which may be played by two of the four incoming freshmen. There are many players whom the coaches have been trying at different positions, Candrea added.
The Wildcats have 25 days in the fall in which they are allowed to practice and play as a team. Candrea said he will utilize each day to develop the players.
""It's going to take some time for them to understand what's going on, but I'd say within the month we should start feeling better about our responsibilities,"" Candrea said.
There is no better time than the fall for experimentation, and playing against community colleges makes for a smooth transition back into playing, said senior infielder K'Lee Arredondo.
""It's another game,"" Arredondo said. ""It's a good way to try new lineups, try new things for the coaches. We go out hard regardless of who we play.""
Yavapai won its first NJCAA Division I Softball Championship in June under Stacy Iveson, a former Arizona player from 1985-89. The Roughriders finished last season with a 60-8 record with 14 freshmen and one sophomore.