When the University of Arizona opened Rita Hillenbrand Memorial Softball Stadium in 1993, Lance and Kelly Fowler picked their season tickets right above the walkway on the first base side of the grandstand.
The location allowed the couple enough legroom for their two small daughters – Mattie and Kenzie – to lay down, sleep and play during games.
“We still have those seats today,” said Kelly Fowler. “And the people who sit behind us all through the years, putting up with us bringing blankets, toys, food, they’ve watched them grow up through the years.”
On Wednesday, Kenzie Fowler, the Canyon del Oro High School pitching sensation and 2008 Gatorade National Softball Player of the Year, officially made the jump from bleacher baby to UA’s softball team.
Fowler and best friend/teammate Katie Asher signed national letters of intent Wednesday – Fowler for UA, Asher for Oklahoma State. The pair held a signing party at the World Sports Grill at the Foothills Mall in front of roughly 50 friends, family, teachers, teammates and coaches.
Wednesday was the first day the NCAA allowed high school seniors across the country to put pen to paper and sign letters of intent to accept collegiate scholarship offers in sports other than football (football’s signing day is in February).
“I wanted to be a Wildcat since before I could talk,” said Fowler. “This day finally makes that official. It seems like it took forever to get here, but now it’s exciting.”
Asher, a power-hitting third baseman who along with Fowler was named an National Fastpitch Coaches Association All-American last spring, said she chose Oklahoma State after she “fell in love” with the program on an unofficial visit last fall.
“The coaches told me that they were going to count on me to get them to the (Women’s College) World Series,” said Asher, who had 14 home runs last spring as a junior and already holds every power-hitting record for the tradition-rich CDO softball program.
For Asher and Fowler, teammates for three years at CDO and for the past six years for the nationally recognized Desert Thunder club team, this spring will mark the last time they will be on the same field as teammates. But maybe not the last time they’re on the same field.
The thought of Asher, who has been nicknamed by teammates “Smasher” Asher, one day standing in the batters box in a college game against the power-pitching Fowler, whose riseball has been clocked at more than 70 mph, is one both players’ parents couldn’t help but smile about.
“It would be amazing and we’d be right there sitting next to each other cheering for both of them like we always have,” said Cindi Asher, who along with husband, Rick Asher, plan on attending UA games and rooting for Kenzie Fowler when not in Oklahoma watching their daughter.
Asher and Fowler were just two of four All-American caliber athletes signing scholarship papers on Wednesday.
A pair of elite swimmers – Sahuaro’s Caitlin Leverenz and Catalina Foothills’ Herbie Behm – also signed letters of intent.
Leverenz, a 2012 Olympic hopeful who is already considered one of the world’s elite teenage swimmers, signed to swim for California-Berkeley.
Behm, who last month became the first Arizona high school swimmer to break 20 seconds in the 50-yard freestyle, signed to swim for Tennessee.
For more on high school sports, check out the Grammer School sports blog.
Arizona softball coach Mike Candrea said he would comment Thursday on his recruiting class, when he had all the letters-of-intent in hand.
Here are four high school players who did or were expected to sign with the Wildcats:
C/INF Brigette DelPonte, Peoria Sunrise Mountain High
P Kenzie Fowler, Canyon del Oro High
SS Baillie Kirker, Crescenta Valley (Calif.) High
OF/2B Becca Tikey, Scottsdale Horizon High