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Arizona softball: Wildcats open regular season with Hillenbrand Invitational

Arizona's highest ranked team will begin the season this weekend

Gabe Encinas

The 13th-ranked Arizona Wildcats will be opening their 2016 campaign this week, aiming for their 30th consecutive NCAA Tournament appearance. Mike Candrea will be hosting the annual Hillenbrand Invitational, which will bring Nebraska-Omaha, North Texas, Purdue, Southern Utah and Santa Barbara to Tucson. There will be a total of 16 games being played at Hillenbrand Stadium this weekend. Arizona has dominated when hosting the Hillenbrand Invitational, going 96-3 in the lifetime of the event. Their last loss came at the hands of Creighton, back in 2009.

Arizona will be relying on pitching and speed this season, with a handful of left-handed pitchers, which include freshman Taylor McQuillin and SDSU transfer Danielle O'Toole, on top of standout junior Michelle Floyd. Defense is the biggest question mark for head coach Mike Candrea, who believes there's speed in the outfield, but still some growth to be made in the infield.

This is the deepest team Candrea has had, with quality depth up and down the roster. The star of the team will be Katiyana Mauga, who has been named to the USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Top 50 watch list for the second consecutive year. She was a third-team All-American last season as a sophomore.

The action starts on Thursday, February 11th, when Arizona will begin the season with Southern Utah at 6 PM MST.

The Wildcats will also take on a doubleheader on Friday evening, playing Southern Utah again at 4 PM and then North Texas at 6 PM.

Saturday brings us another doubleheader, starting it up against Purdue at 5 PM and Nebraska-Omaha at 7 PM. The team will then close out the weekend on Sunday against Santa Barbara at 1 PM.