Citizen Staff Writer
ARIZONA WILDCATS SOFTBALL
First season, first practice, 23 years ago. Mike Candrea, the rookie coach at a so-so Arizona softball program, had a succinct message to his team.
“I want to win a national championship,” he told his players, “and we’re going to do it with or without you.”
For those unwilling to put in the work to try to make that happen, Candrea had another message.
“Don’t let the door hit you on the way out,” he said.
Assistant coach Larry Ray was there.
“I kind of looked at him and thought, ‘Are you for real?’ ” Ray said. “But then it was, ‘All right, let’s do it.’ ”
Eight national championships and all these years later, Candrea, having risen to the world’s foremost softball coach, hasn’t much changed the message on the first day of practice, although his methods have become a bit more sophisticated.
“He told us that he wants us to be in the last game of the college season,” sophomore outfielder Brittany Lastrapes said Monday before the team’s first practice.
With Candrea in charge, that’s often the case. Twelve of Candrea’s past 16 teams have played in the season’s final game.
So, yeah, welcome back, Mike.
Candrea missed last season, as he did in 2004, while coaching the U.S. Olympic team. The Wildcats, led by Ray as the interim head coach, advanced to the World Series. They were ousted in two games, unable to recapture the magic that led to national titles in 2006 and 2007.
Candrea returns to a team that lacks experienced pitching, but has a dangerous and powerful lineup.
“Amazing,” senior first baseman Laine Roth said of having Candrea back.
“He will just talk to you, and you feel pumped up to do amazing at everything.”
Candrea can talk. And talk. One player estimated Candrea’s speech at the first team meeting of the spring Monday morning went on for 45 minutes.
It was then when he introduced a technique he last tried with the 2004 Olympic team.
This hard-hitting Arizona lineup might end up being Sultanas of swat, but the team first will be Sultanas of SWOT.
Candrea put his team through a session of SWOT analysis, a tool often used in business, to identify strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.
He separated the players into four groups, and the staff into another, to gather diverse opinions of where the team thought it was at.
“This is kind of the beginning of me trying to get them to start understanding all the little things that it takes for this team to be successful,” Candrea said.
“The next step is we will get together and I will put on the board everything we listed. We will go through it and prioritize it and really give them a snapshot of where they’re at right now, and what can get in our way.
“I think that’s the big thing for me – them understanding the little things that can get in your way of having a great season. . . . This is a an exercise that gets people to talk.”
If Candrea, 53, has said it once, he has said it a million times. It’s all about the process. Nobody is better at relentlessly working the process than Candrea.
He delivered a PowerPoint presentation this weekend at a clinic in Myrtle Beach, S.C., on practice preparation. He lives for that. He has the Wildcats’ next six weeks meticulously planned.
He expects tough times after the season starts at the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe on Feb. 6. In fact, he welcomes them. They, too, are part of the process.
“Conflict is good. Conflict is healthy,” Candrea said. “But you have to understand how to handle the conflict. That is what you have to teach these kids.”
Candrea went on to say he feels rested and eager to begin his 22nd season.
In other words, he wants to win another national championship – the same as it ever was.
The process began Monday.
Anthony Gimino’s e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org
‘Conflict is good. Conflict is healthy. But you have to understand how to handle the conflict. That is what you have to teach these kids.’
UA softball coach
UA’S PROJECTED STARTERS
C – Stacie Chambers, Jr./Lini Koria, Fr.
1B – Laine Roth, Sr./Sam Banister, Sr.
2B – Victoria Kemp, So./Kristen Arriola, Fr.
3B – Janae Leles, Sr.
SS – K’Lee Arredondo, Jr.
LF – Brittany Lastrapes, So.
CF – Lindsey Schutzler, So.
RF – Karissa Buchanan, Fr.
DP – Chambers/Koria/Roth/Banister
P – Lindsey Sisk, So./Sarah Akamine, Jr.
Arizona vs. Kansas, 4:30 p.m. Feb. 6 at Kajikawa Classic in Tempe