As the No. 8 Arizona softball team prepares for their final regular-season series against No. 2 UCLA, it will mean more than just wins and losses.
It is senior week for the Wildcats which means pitchers Mariah Lopez and Alyssa Denham, outfielder Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza and infielders Jessie Harper, Reyna Carranco, Dejah Mulipola and Malia Martinez will take the field at Hillenbrand Stadium for the last time in the regular season.
“Taking the field on senior weekend at [Hillenbrand Stadium] and having all of our families in the stands is going to be pretty emotional for all of us,” Denham said. “It has taken a lot of hard work, sweat, blood and tears to get to this point. It feels like I have been in college my whole life. I am not sure how I am going to handle not being in college anymore. I’ll forever be a Wildcat … so cherishing this moment will be big for all of our team.”
Lopez mentioned that she will miss how open and honest she can be with all her teammates on the field and in the dugout.
“We are who we are, and we are accepted as who we are, and we have a lot of fun with that,” Lopez said. “Having someone there for you and seeing them every day at practice … that is something I am going to truly miss the most.”
Regardless of it being senior week, the Wildcats will be facing their toughest opponent of the year in UCLA. Harper understood the magnitude of what this final series means for the team.
“This is a big weekend,” Harper said. “I always love playing UCLA. I grew up 30 minutes away from UCLA and would go to all their games. This is a big rivalry game, and there is a lot of tradition behind it. We have a lot riding on this weekend … and I am excited.”
With the hype that Arizona has played with all year, it would be a disappointment to many if they did not make a run for the title. While it may be that way for folks outside of the team, Carranco said it is not the focus of the players or the coaches.
“The [championship] ring is a great thing to have, but it is all about the journey and the experience that you have,” Carranco said. “You cannot control what happens at the end of every day, but we can control that we are happy and that we are there for our teammates. We only get four years to be here, and now that time is coming to an end.”
It is a good thing that the Wildcats are facing top-ranked UCLA at home because their road record is nothing to boast about.
Arizona finished the year with an abysmal 11-10 record on the road and are currently 4-10 against ranked opponents, with the UCLA series determining what the Wildcats’ final record against ranked opponents will be. Head coach Mike Candrea stressed that all their losses to ranked teams were on the road but still said it was no excuse.
“I have been in this game a long time, and I don’t know why it’s so different [on the road]," Candrea said. “Especially in a year where there are no fans, so there’s really no answer for it. We know that must change.”
The Wildcats will take the field at Hillenbrand Stadium for the final time in the regular season against UCLA for a four-game series beginning on Thursday, May 13 at 7 p.m. MST.
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