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Eager to learn from seniors, Arizona softball’s freshmen impressing already

Carlie Scupin
Photo by Ryan Kelapire

Arizona softball brought in the No. 1 recruiting class this fall, and so far—after just one semester, a couple months of practice and a handful of intersquad games—it looks like the real deal.

“A lot of times freshmen will come in and really look like freshmen in the fall, and the one great thing this fall is we got a chance to intersquad a lot, so they got a chance to face some good pitchers with our senior class, and I thought they competed very well,” head coach Mike Candrea said Wednesday.

“They showed me a lot more consistency than most freshmen do. When I got here, they were prepared and they fit in very well, a very hard-working group. And I think the thing to me is they’re very athletic. They bring some power, bring some speed, and I think they can play the game at a high level. So if that carries over into the spring I think we’ll be very excited about this group.”

The freshmen also add incredible size to an Arizona lineup that’s already stacked with some of the sport’s most intimidating hitters.

Seven of the eight newcomers are 5-foot-8 or taller. First baseman Carlie Scupin is one of just two Wildcats standing at 6-feet tall, though somehow freshman shortstop Sophia Carroll—listed at 5-foot-10—looks even taller.

Should we mention her twin sister Aris is on the team, too?

“I don’t know whether it’s just the chicken that they’re eating nowadays or what, but they grow them bigger (now),” Candrea laughed. “I kind of look back at 20, 25 years ago and this group would have been monsters compared to what we used to bring in. Physically, they are very gifted. Strong, athletic, they all swing the bat pretty much with good power other than (Jasmine) Perezchica who’s more of a short-gamer.”

Scupin, Carroll, Allie Skaggs and Devyn Netz all homered in Arizona’s intersquad games, what Candrea said was important proof that their power will translate against quality college pitching. Sometimes it can take a while to adjust.

He was also impressed by Giulia Koutsoyanopulos’ defense at first base and Netz’s velocity in the circle. The fiery right-hander tops out in the upper 60s, already making her the hardest-throwing pitcher on the team. Now it’s a matter of improving her spin and keeping hitters off balance.

“The one thing that I’ve noticed is that they’re all really good at picking things up, it’s been so much fun,” Candrea said. “This fall was really a fun time for me and I don’t know whether it was just the excitement of getting back on the field after sitting around for all these months, but truthfully it was just a really good fall and usually good falls will result in a good season, so now we got to keep our fingers crossed and hope that we get a chance to play 56 games and I think every one of these kids has a chance to help us a little bit.”

The freshmen originally committed to the Wildcats thinking they were going to replace Arizona’s seven star seniors and jumpstart a new era of Arizona softball.

While that’s still the plan, they now get a year to learn from them first.

The upperclassmen being granted an extra year of eligibility means the newcomers will have more of a complementary role to begin their careers. Only Scupin is a surefire starter.

“We have been watching those girls since we were in middle school, which is crazy to think about, but they’re so much older than us and they’re so mature and they’ve taught us so much already,” Scupin said. “So having a year with them I think will really help us out in the long run.”

Yes, even if it could mean less playing time early on.

“I would say having the seniors in front of us is probably the best thing that could happen to us.” Netz said. “We get to look up to them, but they also have that role, since they’re leaders, to teach us. So it’s not only us learning from them but they’re learning how to speak to us and be leaders. I think it’s going to work both ways, and our team has such good chemistry this year it’s ridiculous. I love this team and I don’t think I’ve ever been on a team with such good chemistry.”

“I agree,” Skaggs added. “I think playing behind these All-Americans, and even just a couple years ago they were at the World Series, so you’re playing behind these people that have seen everything that you can pretty much see. And so when you’re actually out there on the field with them and being able to compete with them every single day, it feels pretty great just to know what we’re going to be able to do one day and we’re going to be able to fill those shoes in full confidence.”

Skaggs can make claims like that because she knows her freshman class well. She said they all played against each other at some point in travel ball. Skaggs and Netz were even teammates at Oro Valley’s Ironwood Ridge High School for a year.

Scupin, from Tucson High, would hang out with them from time to time.

“We all had a little bit of a hint of how competitive we were and how how skilled we were, and now coming here this fall and seeing how well all eight of us have done, it just feels pretty great to come out here and compete every day with the super seniors,” said Skaggs, Reyna Carranco’s understudy at second base. “And with everyone coming back, it feels great to finally mesh as a group and all be here as one unit.”

Team chemistry is always important, but even more so during the coronavirus pandemic when uncertainty is bound to strike. A series could get cancelled or several players could be forced out of action.

Candrea believes the teams that can stay healthy and handle adversity will have the best seasons. If that’s the case, you have to love Arizona’s chances of making another run to the Women’s College World Series.

“If someone goes down, you have to have someone that can step up and you don’t lose a lot,” Candrea said. “And I think the one thing that I liked and what I saw this fall is that we have quality depth in the outfield, the infield, behind the plate, and then the circle. So right now I’m feeling about as good as I have after a fall in a long time.”