Editor's note: This weekend's Texas Classic in Austin, Texas has been postponed due to weather. We will update this story with more information as it arrives.
With the 2021 season right around the corner, seniors Dejah Mulipola and Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza fielded questions from the media on Tuesday, Feb. 9 to discuss the upcoming year and expectations for this team.
Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Arizona's softball team has not played in a regular season game since March 10, 2020. That is a long time for an athlete not to compete, and it can be hard to regain focus once your team hits the field. Senior outfielder Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza would tell you otherwise.
“We’re super pumped,” Palomino-Cardoza said. “It’s definitely been a long time but with the senior class coming back and the class we have coming in and everyone in between, this team is looking really good, so we’re ready to go.”
One of those seniors coming back is star catcher Mulipola. Mulipola was busy playing for Team USA last season and getting ready for the 2020 Olympics in Tokyo, Japan. With the pandemic postponing the games until 2021, it gave Mulipola the opportunity to come back and play for a team that she cares deeply about.
“I missed the girls, and I missed [head coach Mike Candrea] the most,” Mulipola said. “Just being in a Wildcat uniform is something so special. It gives you goosebumps every time you put it on. I have chills right now just talking about it because I love being here, and I love the experience.”
With the team now reunited, the focus shifts to the first game of the season game against one of the toughest teams in the country, the No. 6 Texas Longhorns.
Last year, the Wildcats ended the season firing on all cylinders with an 11 game win streak. One big difference from last season is they did not play a top-ranked team until their thirteenth game, whereas this year they open the season against the No. 6 Longhorns. Palomino-Cardoza believes that it is important to come out aggressive on day one.
“It’s that same mentality of coming in hot and proving that we’re the team to beat,” Palomino-Cardoza said. “Having that fire and anxiousness to want to play will be really big for us.”
She also spoke about the importance of teamwork and how they were able to use the downtime from the long offseason to become closer as a unit.
“In this time, we have grown into being more of a family and a sisterhood. And we want to show college softball that Arizona is still dominant, and we’re going to get where we want to go.” Palomino-Cardoza said.
Now that the season approaches with the Wildcats' overflow of talent, people are setting the bar high for this team. How high? As high as it gets — championship or bust. While the weight of these expectations could be overwhelming, Mulipola explains how she and her team stay focused.
“I think that’s always the goal,” Mulipola said. “Coach Candrea always says we have to take it one game at a time. Our focus is on Thursday and getting that first game against Texas.”
After the ladies gave their take on the season, it was head coach Mike Candrea’s turn. Candrea agrees with Palomino-Cardoza and Mulipola that while the team is opening with a tough schedule, it is a chance for the team to get a first look at the nation's best.
“What a good opportunity to see Texas and Alabama early in the year,” Candrea said. “Going on the road and seeing how all this [COVID-19] stuff works out, I think we’re all very excited to put on the uniform and play someone.”
Coach Candrea is also aware of the immense championship pressure that is being put on his team this year and when asked, he had a simple solution for all his players on how to avoid the distraction.
“Keep their heads out of the newspaper and social media,” Candrea said.
If you are a student-athlete in the digital age, advice does not get any better than that. He also believes that the maturity of his older players will help those who may struggle.
“The makeup of our team with our seven super seniors will help that venture,” Candrea said. “They understand you can’t look too far down the road, and for us, our job is to get one percent better every day and just start playing the game.”
With how similar the responses sound between the coach and his players, it is no wonder that they call themselves a family.
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