Arizona softball prepares for memorable season

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Sofia Moraga | The Daily Wildcat Arizona's Jessie Harper (19) runs towards home plate after hitting a home run during the fourth inning of the Arizona-St. Francis game of the NCAA championship Tournament on Friday May 18 at the Rita Hillenbrand Stadium in Tucson, Ariz. The run scored the cats the first and only point of the game.

With less than a week until opening day, the Wildcats are starting the 2019 softball season with new opportunities to erase last year’s disappointment. The ‘Cats' home away from home, Hillenbrand Stadium, was recently renovated and will be the venue for a team that ended the season 28-4 at home. 

Softball head coach Mike Candrea said the renovations are larger than he expected. The project that began last summer includes a new entryway, a press box, an Alumni Plaza, new chairs and bench-back seats for the infield seating sections and updated restrooms and concessions. 

The new renovations have already paid off, as the ’Cats have strengthened their defense by recruiting two talented pitchers while also returning a fierce, established lineup. 

“It’s an exciting time for Arizona Softball,” Candrea said.

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Also making their way into the 2019 season are the new Nike Vapor Elite 2.0 uniforms. The University of Arizona is one of five schools to receive these specialty uniforms that Nike took extra time designing and customizing. The designs pay homage to the great Arizona teams of the past.



“We’re honoring the people that came before us," outfielder Alyssa Palomino said. 

Some of the uniforms have block-style letters that make them look vintage, but other designs are more modern. The team made various social media posts, sharing glimpses of the six new designs. 

“They definitely feel very nice, gives you a whole little cool look," junior infielder Jessie Harper said.

Last season, the ‘Cats were swept in the Super Regional in a two-game series against UCLA. Out of the five games that were played against each other last season throughout Pac-12 play and in the postseason, UCLA won every single matchup. 

“We have what it takes to make this year special," Candrea said. 

This year, the ‘Cats are going to start the season as the No. 6 team in the nation, according to USA Softball, their highest preseason ranking since the 2011 season when they grabbed the No. 1 spot. The Wildcats will have to earn that ranking, however, as the 'Cats will have a loaded schedule, playing Florida State, UCLA, Washington, Oklahoma and Florida, who are all ranked in the top 5.

 “Our schedule is crazy good," pitcher Taylor McQuillin said. 

The ‘Cats begin their season away from home on a five-game road trip in Tampa, Fla. 

“We have a competitive schedule with talented teams," Candrea said.

Candrea said the team has depth in their pitchers this season, with six pitchers he said can all contribute. This season, freshmen pitchers Marissa Schuld and Vanessa Foreman will join the team.

“It’s going to work out in our favor ... we have six to work with,” McQuillin said. “Confidence this year is key for our pitching staff."

 McQuillin ended the 2018 season with 30 complete games and 15 shutouts, posting a 1.38 ERA. 

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The ‘Cats' offense last season was unstoppable. Palomino and Harper lead the team in both average and slugging. Both ended up slugging above .700, giving the ‘Cats a one-two punch in the lineup. 

“Get the bat to the next player” is a motto they’ve embraced, Harper said. Coming into 2019, the ‘Cats feel very confident in their offense, according to Candrea.

In the 2019 season, Arizona's goal is not just to get further than last season, but to win it all. 

“I just don’t want to get there. I want to win it," Candrea said. 

With the big three – Palomino, McQuillin and Harper – healthy, the ‘Cats are looking to take over the Pac-12. Palomino said their goal for the 2019 season is “Get to Oklahoma.” 


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