Arizona softball: Kenzie Fowler's Wildcat career riddled with injury and missed opportunity

David Sanders - Arizona Daily Star

The Tucson native picked up all kinds of awards and honors in high school and college, but a multitude of injuries prevented Kenzie Fowler from reaching her full potential

Kenzie Fowler.

A name that almost any Tucsonan recognizes.  Whether it be from her amazing high school career at Canyon del Oro, or from her injury-riddled period at U of A, everyone knows the name.

And so it is a sad day when we find out that Fowler, who is now a college senior, will not be able to participate in the 2014 postseason as she has been diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome in her left shoulder.  She previously had the same ailment in her right shoulder during high school.

If you don't know about the first time she was diagnosed with this particular syndrome, this video from 2010 gives a pretty good idea about just how serious it was.

It also explains just how dominant she was at CDO, and what kind of potential she had coming into the college game in 2010.  Not often is a school able to bring in a two-time NATIONAL player of the year, and three-time Arizona player of the year.

Some All of her high school stats are ridiculous.  Her senior season at CDO, she put up a 0.048 ERA, and threw 14 no-hitters.  No big deal.  She also used to be quite the threat at the plate, setting a single-season record for RBI at CDO, and has the most career hits of any Dorado.

I remember the day that she officially signed on to come to Arizona.  I remember the enormous hype surrounding her, and what this team was going to be able to do over the next four years.  She was going to be the best pitcher to ever pitch at Arizona. And this is a program that had the likes of Jennie Finch, Nancy Evans, Debby Day, Alicia Hollowell and Taryne Mowatt occupy the circle at Hillenbrand Stadium.

All those expectations were all there.  And were all very real.  And most of them were met in that 2010 season.

Arizona reached the Women's College World Series Championship Games against UCLA that year behind Fowler.   The freshman recorded the fourth-most wins for a season in program history with 38, including two enormous wins against Tennessee to win the Wildcats' group and advance to the Championship Series.

She also posted the seventh-most strikeouts in a single season with 371.  That was five more than Jennie Finch put up during her best year in 2002.

Arizona ultimately lost both games in the Championship Series to UCLA.  You may remember that first game as the botched fly ball by the Arizona outfield that led to a game one loss, and eventually, the series loss.

Why ask her about how her legs felt?  Fowler threw 190 pitches that night against UCLA.

During the 2010 WCWS, Fowler pitched all but nine innings.  That season, she threw 284.1 total innings, the sixth-most in a single season at Arizona.  She may have pitched all the WCWS innings had it not been for that "illegal pitch" controversy that erupted for Fowler in postseason play.

After not being called on it all year, all of the sudden the NCAA umpires were calling illegal pitches every chance they got, which disrupted her flow, and threw her off her game at times during the postseason.  But just like she had the rest of her life, she persevered and fought through it.

2011 came and went, and Kenzie was able to put up similar numbers to her amazing freshman campaign.  Unfortunately, Arizona was swept out of the Tucson Super Regional by Oklahoma.  ASU wound up winning the 2011 National Championship behind their star pitcher Dallas Escobedo, who was a freshman.

On April 17, 2011, Kenzie Fowler was struck by a foul ball during a game against Washington.  That moment may have been the start of the downturn of her time at Arizona.


2012 was a season filled with back pain for the Wildcat pitcher, and Arizona finished with a non-winning record in conference play for the first time in the Pac-10 era.  Once again, the season ended with a super regional loss to Oklahoma, this time in Norman, and Fowler finished the year with a career-low 15 wins.

With all of that back pain, Fowler underwent lumbar microdisectomy surgery in the fall of 2012, and decided to redshirt the 2013 softball season as a result.  The Wildcats struggled, and although they snuck into the NCAA Tournament, they were elminated in the Regional Round for the first time since 2004.

It was unclear if Fowler would return this year, and if she did, in what capacity.  But Coach Candrea offered his full support for her to rejoin the team and help out anyway she could.

And that is exactly what she did.

This season has been a totally different role for Fowler, throwing just the third-most innings on the Arizona pitching staff.  Just ten games started for the senior.  Imagine if you had been told in 2009 that in her senior season, this would be the Kenzie Fowler Arizona fans would see.  Everyone would have thought you were crazy.

How about no National Championships since 2007?  Even more crazy?  Arizona is in the midst of the longest National Championship drought since Mike Candrea took over at Arizona in 1986.

You can't put that on Fowler though.  Her career has just been full of bad luck.  Being diagnosed with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome.  The life-threatening blood clots in her neck.  The dropped fly ball in the 2010 Women's College World Series.  The foul ball hitting her in the head in the dugout.  The back issues.

And now another bout with Thoracic Outlet Syndrome that officially ends her Arizona career.  How can you not feel bad for her?  All that hype, all that talent, all those skills.  All of it comes through Arizona without pulling in the ultimate goal, a National Championship Trophy.

I met Fowler at an Arizona Baseball game this season, where she was serving as one of the photographers for the day.  She couldn't have been nicer, and it seems like whatever is thrown her way, she can deal with it.

If there's one woman who can get through all of this and not look back in disappointment, it would be her.

So what's next?  Well, she'll graduate with a degree in journalism, and apparently head to the Bay Area to work for Pac-12 Networks.

She's already put together some of the senior videos for Arizona Softball this year, including this one on Arizona's top starting pitcher this season, Estela Pinon.

The softball career may not have gone exactly as planned for Kenzie Fowler, but I think everyone can agree that it was through no fault of her own.  I hope we get to see Fowler as a major player in the growth of Pac-12 Networks, and that all of these health issues will be part of her past.

How great would it have been for her to get one last crack at breaking through this postseason for one last hoorah?  I just hate that it had to end like this for her.  It's almost sickening that such a promising career and all-around good person has their career end prematurely.  And during Senior Weekend right before the tournament?

Heart-breaking.

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