Part of the journey is the end.
Arizona softball’s season come to a close over the weekend as the Wildcats fell to Alabama in an intense 2-0 elimination game in the Women’s College World Series, putting an end to a memorable 2019 season.
Despite heading into the WCWS ranked as the No. 6 team in the country, the Wildcats were thought of as underdogs to win it all in a tournament with No. 1 Oklahoma, No. 2 UCLA and No. 3 Washington left in the field.
Yet, the 48-win ‘Cats made a statement in the very first game in Oklahoma City, knocking off Pac-12 foe Washington 3-1 in an extra-inning affair, capped off with a go-ahead two-run home run by Dejah Mulipola in the eighth inning.
Suddenly a path to the championship game was becoming clearer. However, losses to UCLA and Alabama derailed Arizona’s shot at winning its first national title since 2010.
Even though the Wildcats didn’t capture the ultimate prize, there’s still a lot of positives to find.
“It’s a journey to get here and I’m very proud of this team,” Head Coach Mike Candrea said following the loss to Alabama. “Like I told them, there’s a lot for them to be very proud of. Number one, getting us back to the College World Series. Number two, it’s hard to understand the experience here until you’ve been through it. So I think it will definitely be a great positive for the kids coming back in our program that have been able to feel this and understand what the stage is all about.”
The 2019 season saw Candrea take a group ripe with talent and turn it into a true team that represents more than student-athletes putting on a jersey every few days.
From going through a rigorous Navy Seal training to build leadership and chemistry to overcoming four losses within the first two weeks of the season, Arizona softball turned into one of the university’s brightest spots.
The UA unveiled a state-of-the-art remodeled Hillenbrand Stadium at the beginning of the season and even set one of the highest program marks in attendance during the Regional and Super Regional weekends.
While a total of six seniors will leave the program in the offseason, including senior ace Taylor McQuillin, there’s a good chance Arizona will be back on the doorstep of another WCWS a year from now.
The ‘Cats return one of the best junior classes in all of softball, which features NCAA home run leader Jessie Harper and the likely 2020 No. 1 pitcher Alyssa Denham.
Through the highs and lows of the season, the message of the team’s motto "One team, one heartbeat" rang loud.
“I have no regrets, I love this team," Candrea said. "I think this team has done everything I’ve asked them to do. They have committed to the journey, committed to the process each and every day. They’ve become a family.”
Candrea added: “To be honest with you, this is one of the most fun years I’ve had coaching softball.”
The year didn't come to a close with the storybook ending the team was hoping for, but that’s okay.
“It’s going to light a fire under us to want to get back here next year,” Denham said.
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