Early in the season, Arizona pitcher Alyssa Denham said that things were different this year from the very start. From the time the team came back together in the fall, they were closer than last year.
Whether it’s Peanut Martinez referring to the team as “like sisters” or coach Mike Candrea talking about how the players genuinely like each other, attitude and bonds have been a topic of conversation for everyone.
The entire team has talked about chemistry being the biggest difference. However, Candrea believes that the changes are not only because the players genuinely like each other, but also due to their character and leadership.
“I think character is at a high point in this program,” he said. “And I’ve always said. you look at character probably as much as you do talent. And we just so happen right now to have a really good mesh of some talented kids that are high-character kids that get it done in the classroom. Their GPA was 3.4. All those things kind of add up to moments like this.”
Leadership qualities were intentionally developed by bringing in outside advice and training.
“We started off in September,” Candrea said. “And the first thing I did this year is I brought a group in called The Program. And it’s a Navy SEALs training—one day on land, one day in the water—and it really kind of identified a few things for us. One was leaders, putting them in leadership positions.
“But I think the other thing was paying attention to details. And I think this group, I’ve been so pleased with watching them perform every day. And you wouldn’t notice it, but they do some little things that I think have really paid dividends for us. And it is paying attention to details.”
After Denham and her team reached the Women’s College World Series by sweeping Ole Miss in the Tucson Super Regional, she returned to that topic of chemistry and commitment to the team. She addressed her relationship with ace Taylor McQuillin.
“I texted Tay at the beginning of this year,” Denham said, “and I told her that I was going to do everything I can to help not only her but the rest of the senior class on finishing their career the way it should be finished and going all the way. Tay always just pumps me up, gets me going as I go out there, and just tells me that no one can beat me.”
The players and their coach admit that the kind of chemistry that leads to that desire to do things for each other isn’t something Arizona has always had in recent years. That lack of chemistry has made succeeding more difficult.
“I would definitely say team chemistry,” junior catcher Dejah Mulipola replied when asked what the biggest obstacle the team had overcome during her time at Arizona. “The past couple years that I’ve been here, we just haven’t meshed. And I think this year everyone truly bought into what Coach was selling—underclassmen, upperclassmen, bench players, starters. So I think we truly just bought in, and we worked as a unit. Our motto this year is ‘One team, one heartbeat,’ and it definitely showed on the field, which is why we finally broke the curse and we’re going to where we should be.”
Redshirt junior outfielder Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza agreed.
“We’ve had some rough years, but I think this year, we’ve definitely come together. We’ve definitely worked together as a team,” she said. “We’ve been through it all. We’ve been there for each other through the whole thing, and it’s just incredible just to see the team that we are.”
The bench players have played a major role in that chemistry, according to Candrea. Their buy-in was especially important.
“I commend the kids that aren’t on the field for their buy-in, and the energy that they bring each and every day, every practice,” he said. “And I think that’s what it takes. And in today’s culture, it’s awfully hard sometimes to get 22 kids to buy into that because you kind of grow up with someone putting you on a pedestal saying you’re the best. And it’s tough when you get to college, and maybe you’re not playing every day. That’s the challenge, and that’s part of growing up.”
Back in April, Candrea was complimentary of the role the team’s older players had performed in nurturing the team chemistry. However, he also felt that it couldn’t have been done without the freshmen.
“I think it’s a tribute to our seniors, who have set the tone, (and) this very good junior class,” he said after the team swept ASU. “But I think the big thing is the freshmen coming in have all got on board and have been all-in. For us to have that chemistry, they got to like one another, like being around one another.”
While chemistry doesn’t win titles on its own, lack of it can definitely keep a team from reaching its full potential. The Wildcats believe that they finally have that crucial chemistry. Now, they are one step closer to showing that they have all of the components of a championship team.