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Taking Stock: How Arizona softball is looking under coach Mike Candrea

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Photo by Ryan Kelapire

It may seem like college sports are always going on, but July is the one month of the year when no Arizona Wildcats teams are in action. Yep, we’re as sad about that as you are.

Before you know it, the 2019-20 seasons will be under way for Arizona’s 19 men’s and women’s sports. But in the meantime, now is the perfect opportunity to assess how each of these programs are doing.

Over the next few weeks we’ll break down each team and evaluate how it is performing under its current coaching staff, looking at the state of the program before he/she arrived and comparing it to now (as well as looking into the near future).

Next up: Mike Candrea’s softball team.

How it looked before

We have to go waaaaaaaaay back to look at Arizona softball before Candrea came down from Central Arizona College. He was hired in 1986, and prior to that the Wildcats had fielded a team since 1974 under the guidance of four different coaches.

Candrea had won an NJCAA national title at CAC and was 185-68 in five seasons there before Arizona pulled the trigger on bringing in what is now the second-winningest coach in college softball history.

Where things stand now

Arizona has won eight national titles under Candrea, most by any coach, and his 1,563 victories at the NCAA level are the most ever. Yet before the Wildcats reached the Women’s College World Series this past season, they were in the closet thing to a program downturn as there’s been under Candrea.

From 1988-2010 Arizona missed the WCWS only once, that coming in 2004 when Candrea took a leave of absence to coach the US Olympic team (he did the same in 2008). But from 2011-18 the Wildcats failed to make their annual trip to Oklahoma City, falling in the Super Regionals seven times and failing to make it out of the first weekend in 2013—only the third time that had happened since 1987.

For almost any other softball program, Arizona’s “slump” wouldn’t have registered, but this one has been the golf standard in the sport for more than 30 years. Getting back to OKC this past June was a welcome occurrence, and it coming the same year the school had completed an $8 million renovation to Hillenbrand Stadium indicates this program has no plans to drop from the top tier of college softball anytime soon.

Nor does the school plan on having to replace a legend like Candrea. In 2017 he signed a contract extension through 2022 that includes a base salary of $345,000.

One big question

Can Arizona win another title? Getting back to the WCWS this year was great, considering it had been a while since that had last happened. But Arizona didn’t get the best draw, sitting on the same side of the bracket as the UCLA and Washington teams that it finished behind in the Pac-12 during the regular season, and that led to a tie for fifth place in OKC.

The Wildcats’ last national championship came in 2007, when Taryne Mowatt (now the pitching coach) led them to back-to-back crowns. Those two titles were the first for Arizona since 2001, a seemingly interminable gap for a program that from 1990-98 either won or was runner up every year.