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Return of Arizona softball’s seniors leads to unbalanced roster

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arizona-wildcats-softball-seniors-coronavirus-roster-candrea-balance-2021-breakdown Photo by Jacob Snow/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

There were always going to be consequences to bringing back the seniors after their 2020 softball season was cut short by the COVID-19 pandemic. There are certainly financial ramifications to it, but the most obvious consequence for the Arizona Wildcats is the depletion of its junior and sophomore classes due to transfer.

For now, that’s not a problem. Arizona’s senior class is so talented that it’s something that coach Mike Candrea could leave for another day. HIs concern was getting them the opportunity to have a real senior year—and for the program to have the benefit of their talent for a final season.

“The day that we did decide that they were going to cancel the season, my energy and my thoughts were like, ‘we can’t. We cannot let this senior class end this way,’” Candrea said. “And so I made some phone calls around the country with people that I know and just tried to get some support. I felt It was only the right thing to do to allow these players to finish their careers the right way. And selfishly, yes, I wanted them back because they’re a talented group and I know what they mean to Arizona Softball, but I was thinking more along the lines of just every senior in the country to put all this energy and work into a college career, and not even to be able to have a senior day.”

That created a roster crunch, though. When Dejah Mulipola was allowed to return to finish her career with her senior class before playing in the postponed Olympics, that meant seven seniors were coming back. On top of that, eight incoming freshmen in a class that’s ranked No. 1 by Extra Innings Softball would be added to the mix.

Players were squeezed out.

“I knew that when we had the opportunity to bring our seniors back, since we have such a large class and combine that with bringing in eight freshmen—and that freshman class was a very strong class, very good class—I knew that it would definitely make some people kind of take a look at their future and their playing time,” Candrea said. “And, you know, every kid comes here because they want to play. But this brought a whole other set of circumstances that I knew there would be a little bit of a trickle down effect from it. And, you know, we had some very honest and open conversations with kids about their future and about their playing time. And I really felt like for many of them, this was the time for them to maybe look at other options, if that’s what was on the table for them.”

Those players were entirely from the sophomore and junior classes. Sophomore pitchers Marissa Schuld and Vanessa Foreman put themselves into the portal, and Foreman has since committed to Louisiana-Lafayette. The junior class lost utility player Ivy Davis and outfielders Jenna Kean and Carli Campbell.

It’s not that all of those losses were surprises. Foreman had pitched little in her two years in Tucson. Kean never seemed to get the kind of playing time she was looking for despite coming to Arizona as a highly-rated recruit. Campbell lost playing time her redshirt junior season when Arizona brought in several talented outfielders.

Some were a little more surprising, although the logic of their decisions was certainly clear. Schuld seemed to have settled in as a productive designated player her sophomore year, but her future both there and on defense may have been unsettled.

Davis had taken over at first base in her junior campaign, but Arizona is bringing in the 2019 Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year in Carlie Scupin at the position. After fighting for playing time for three years, Davis has reportedly found options she likes better at Tennessee.

What it all means is that Arizona will have seven seniors and a whopping 12 freshmen in 2021. Because all players were granted an extra year of eligibility, the four current freshmen will join the eight newcomers in an extremely large class. The sophomore and junior classes will consist of just two players each.

“My expectations for the senior class foremost is to help us bring this freshman class along,” Candrea said. “So I think they’re going to be good leaders, and they’re going to show kids how to do things the right way. And I think that’s invaluable. Not often do you have an opportunity to do that.”

While the freshmen will have that talented group of seniors to lead them in 2021, they will be the core of the team just one year later. Pitchers Mariah Lopez and Alyssa Denham will be gone, meaning Jessie Fontes and Devyn Netz must be ready to take on big roles their sophomore seasons. The only other pitcher on the roster is Hanah Bowen, although there is pitching in the next class.

The bigger question becomes how difficult it will be to replace a class of 12 when the time comes in 2025. That’s a question that won’t be answered until at least 2023. Stay tuned.