Mike Candrea and the other head coaches in the Women’s College World Series met with the media Wednesday before action gets underway Thursday in Oklahoma City.
Here is what the Arizona skipper had to say on the eve of his team’s opener against Washington.
Candrea on returning to the WCWS: “It’s been a journey. I think some journeys are more frequent than the last one. Very rewarding to get back here and very proud of this team. I think the highlight of this team really for me is just their chemistry. I think they’ve worked very hard to do the little things that it takes to get to this level.
“Just getting here is becoming tougher and tougher. I think that’s just a compliment to coaches that are sitting around here. It’s a compliment to the game, where our game has grown. It is definitely a tough journey.
“I think we’ve weathered the storm to this part. We’re looking forward to meeting a conference foe tomorrow. But we’re very excited to kind of get the ball rolling, seeing where we’re at.”
Candrea on Arizona’s chances of winning the title: “Well, we would not be here if we didn’t think we were capable. I think the great thing about this stage and the thing that we grew from that experience was just being able to handle the big moment. I think now their motors are going to run a little bit higher. When you get here that I think is the key. We all have good pitching. We all play good defense. It’s going to come down to the timely hit.
“But I think the big thing is to be able to handle the emotions of the game. At this stage right now, this game, that’s the center of it. If the game gets too quick, you can’t slow it down, it’s awfully tough to be successful.
“I think we’ve grown in that regard. I think physically we’re hopefully a little better team than we were. That’s our goal. But I think mentally right now, I think our kids have kind of figured out what each of them have to do to kind of slow the game down and be able to handle the big moment, and we’ll see.”
Candrea on the increase of female coaches: “The one thing I’ve seen in the sport is that we’ve grown a lot more good female coaches. I think when I got into the game early on, that maybe had not been the case. Most of us came from baseball. It was pretty natural.
“I think in today’s world, I mean, I’ve been around enough to see these young ladies grow. I think we have some very capable females that are really good coaches, that understand how to manage people. I’m happy for that. I’m also a believer that if you’re looking for someone, you want the very best fit for your program. To me, it’s the person that’s going to be able to develop these young ladies for life after softball.
“One thing about our sport right now, I wish we had more opportunities for them to play professionally and actually make a living. Until that happens, I think my major job is to get them ready for life after softball. If I can be a good mentor and a good role model for them, whether you’re female or male, I think that’s what’s important.”
Candrea on how college softball has changed over the years: “I look back at benchmarks that have kind of changed college softball. The first one I think is ESPN. I can remember back when we had one game on television. If you were lucky enough to get in the championship game, that was it.
“Today softball is a household sport that everyone is watching. I got a call yesterday from a gentleman, I knew who he was, I answered the phone. It was Johnny Bench. I’m going, Wait a minute, are you talking about the Johnny Bench?
“Oh, yeah. He was talking about softball, how five years ago he never really watched a softball game. Now he’s just absolutely thrilled about the quality that he sees of the athlete. We’ve always known it’s been there. But I think it’s been ESPN that came in. Then for me, I really believe it was the SEC getting into softball, putting in some money into facilities, into salaries, into a lot of areas that I think have helped grow the sport.
“Those are the two benchmarks I look at as far as why we’re at right now. I think this sport right now is absolutely in the best place it’s ever been. We have great athletes, great coaches. We’re getting great facilities around the country. I think people are starting to recognize maybe this could be the best sport right now in the NCAA on the female side.
“I’m not taking anything away from basketball or anyone else. I’m just saying that right now, these young ladies can play this game at a really high level. I think people are starting to understand that and enjoy it.”