Sophomore Jessie Harper entered the Arizona softball program as a high school All-American shortstop, so when Mike Candrea asked her to play first base freshman year, a learning curve was expected.
Harper had played shortstop her entire life before moving positions across the infield due to Mo Mercado’s role as the starting shortstop.
Yet, Harper looked just at ease at first base, where she produced one of the strongest freshman campaigns in school history — 19 home runs and 56 RBI on top of a .990 fielding percentage, earning Harper first-team All-American honors.
“Coming into the beginning of the season I didn’t think I was going to be playing first, that’s for sure,” Harper said at the team’s first media session of the new year. “It was a lot of fun over there. You’re up closer, you have a different role.”
Harper, like most of her teammates, was shocked about the season-ending defeat to Baylor in the Super Regionals.
Harper entered the decisive Game 3 with her bags packed for Oklahoma City. After Arizona lost, Harper recalled making a lonesome drive back to California.
“I was not thinking anything other than Oklahoma City,” Harper said. “I still have that game recorded on my TV at home and I know it will haunt a lot of us here.”
Harper would end up making it to Oklahoma City last summer, as part of the U.S. Junior Team at the World Cup of Softball.
When Mercado graduated from the UA this past spring, Harper made the transition back to her natural position.
However, Mercado’s presence is still felt whenever Harper takes a ground ball at short.
That’s because Mercado, who joined the program as a grad assistant, still takes grounders with the infield.
“She definitely is that voice in the back of my head,” Harper said. “She sees what I do, and she’ll help me along the way. She’s like my own personal coach out there right now at shortstop.”
Harper leads an infield attempting to replace the production of Mercado and Katiyana Mauga.
Harper has the shortstop job sealed, and sophomore Reyna Carranco is expected to start at second base after a Pac-12 All-Freshman season at the position.
“I’m excited to get a little more involved in the infield-outfield process,” Harper said.
The rest of the infield is mostly up for grabs.
Junior Joelle Krist, a former Pac-12 All-Freshman, is likely to see plenty of action back at first base. Another junior, Hillary Edior, has also previously received a start at first base.
Freshman Hannah Martinez, a highly-touted third baseman out of Garden Grove, Calif. will compete for playing time with sophomores Jaycee Lindley and Malia Martinez.
“We have 23 kids on our roster, so we have a lot of different options,” Candrea said. “If I told you that I know who exactly is going to be starting the first game of the season, I’d be lying to you right now.”