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Monday, December 5, 2016

Arizona Profile: Wildcats Look to Return to National Prominence, and With a Vengeance

General Overview/2016 Recap: The Wildcats began their 20176 season on a seven-game winning streak, a streak that included a win over the Big Ten's Purdue and future Women's College World Series participant LSU, the latter to kick off the Mary Nutter Classic.


Danielle O'Toole, a sure catalyst
in the circle for the Cats
Photo: Arizona Athletics
The Mary Nutter weekend was a particularly unpleasant one for the Wildcats and their fans, as the victory over LSU was followed by a 1-3 record to finish off the tournament, including a run-rule victory over UCF and losses to Central Michigan; Texas A&M; and Cal Poly, the latter by shutout.

At the Tuscaloosa-hosted Bama Bash, the Wildcats bested Marshall twice as well as Tennessee, but took two losses to Alabama in consecutive days.

A duo of losses to James Madison in the desert by a combined score of 10-3 and a victory over Texas punctuated the remainder of pre-conference play.

In conference play, the Wildcats took series wins over Arizona State; Utah; Oregon State; and Cal and swept Stanford, as well as a mid-season non-conference three-game set over Houston. On the negative side of the ball, Mike Candrea's squad suffered a series loss to Washington and UCLA and were swept in shutout fashion by Oregon.


In the regional round, the Wildcats swept through the Knoxville-hosted regional, upsetting national seed Tennessee twice over the weekend to advance to the Super Regional round.


The journey came to an end in the Supers, though, as the Wildcats squandered a game one victory by losing twice on Sunday, scoring just two runs in the two games and saying 'sayonara' at the hands of the SEC-champion Auburn Tigers.



Around the Horn in 2016: (reflects departed players)

P - Danielle O'Toole; Taylor McQuillin
C - (Lauren Young)
1B - Nancy Bowling/Joelle Krist
2B - Ashleigh Hughes
3B - Katiyana Mauga
SS - Mo Mercado
LF - Mandie Perez
CF - Eva Watson
RF - Alexis Dotson
DP - Tamara Statman


Carrying the Clipboards: Head coach Mike Candrea is not only considered by many to be the best active head coach, he retains a host of supporters who would crown him with the title of the greatest of all time. History would support that argument. Now into his 33rd season at the helm of the Wildcats, Candrea owns nearly 1,500 career victories and should hit that milestone for good in 2017. During his career, the Wildcats have played in twenty-one editions of the Women's College World Series and earned eight national titles, as well as fifty-four players who earned all-American honors and four that were chosen as National Player of the Year. The leader of the gold-medal-winning 2004 Team USA Olympic squad and also in charge of the silver-medalist 2008 squad, Candrea's international success only punctuates his success in the desert.


A longtime Candrea ally and assistant that is now in her second stint on the Wildcat coaching staff, Iveson serves as the pitching coach and it was under her tutelage that then-junior transfer hurler Danielle O'Toole posted a near-2.00 ERA with an average of nearly a strikeout/inning in 2016. A two-time national champion with Pima Community College at the junior college level during a stint that spanned 2002-2007, and the winner of two additional titles while helming Yavapai College, she won more than five hundred games as a head coach at the two schools.


One of the program's most legendary players, outfielder Caitlin Lowe, is now entering her fourth season as an assistant imparting her knowledge of the game onto the newest Wildcats. 2017 actually marks Lowe's sixth season on the Wildcat staff, with her title as a full-time assistant coach following a year as the volunteer assistant and a year as the program's director of operations. As a player, Lowe was part of two national championship-winning squads and ended her career with a .446 career batting average and more than 350 career hits. She was a four-time, first-team all-American, only the second Wildcat in history to accomplish the feat, and earned a silver medal on Candrea's 2008 Olympic squad.



Additions: The incoming freshman class of Wildcats includes utility player Revna Carranco; catcher Dejah Mulipola; and infielders Malia Martinez; Jessie Harper; and Jaycee Lindley. Alyssa Palomino also joins the Wildcat lineup as a redshirt freshman after suffering an ACL injury during fall practice in 2015 and missing the 2016 season.


Subtractions: Utility player and catcher Lauren Young made up a small, but impactful, senior class departing the program after the 2016 season.



Scheduling: The Wildcats will begin the season with their own hosted Hillenbrand Invitational and Wildcat Invitational on back-to-back weekends. Fordham; Tulsa; Northwestern; and CSU-Northridge will come to town to open the season, while Drake; Ball State; Abilene Christian; North Dakota State; and Boston College are on tap for the season's second weekend of games.


Louisville; BYU; Purdue; LIU-Brooklyn; and Florida State are on the Wildcats' Mary Nutter Classic list of matchups, which will be followed by a three-game series against the Longhorns of Texas in Tucson.


A matchup against Oklahoma in Long Beach, CA dots the final week prior to conference play.


In conference play, the Wildcats will travel to Oregon State; Cal; Utah; and UCLA, and will play host to Arizona State; Oregon; Washington; and Stanford. 



Potential Strengths/Weaknesses ---

Strengths - Danielle O'Toole is one of the best pitchers in the nation and is a real asset to the Wildcats. The PAC-12's parity level has evened-out significantly in recent times and the Wildcats appear, to the eye test, to be in a position to perform well in conference, and seem to have the right pieces to challenge at a high level.

Weaknesses - The Wildcats need to finish the big games and provide some quality depth behind O'Toole in the circle. If that doesn't happen adequately or effectively, opposing hitters may begin to figure O'Toole out and 'get to her' on occasion, which would be disastrous for any success the Wildcats hope to have.



Outlook for 2017: Candrea's club seems to be in prime position to challenge once-again for a spot in Oklahoma City; with the right regional and Super regional matchups, I would call it a near-foregone conclusion that the Wildcats will be back in Oklahoma City.

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