The Oro Valley Suncats 18U roster is like an all-star collection of talent with at least 16 players bound for college softball, many at the Division I level including Arizona and Arizona State.
The youngest of the group, who has yet to make a college commitment, is sophomore pitcher Kyrie Denny of Pusch Ridge High School. All the rest of the 22 players on the Suncats’ roster are either juniors or seniors in high school or players who recently graduated.
Denny, towering in the circle at 6 feet, certainly deserves to be among the best given her performance as a freshman at Pusch Ridge last season and her background with Suncats’ program dating to two years ago.
She struck out 136 batters and walked only 25 in 119 2/3 innings last year with the Lions. At the plate, she batted .467 with 10 home runs, 14 doubles and 45 RBIs.
“It really gives me a lot of people to look up to and learn,” Denny said about being with the Suncats’ top team. “It’s really taught me to work hard and fight for a spot on the team. I love that because when I get to college, I’m not going to be able just to step in and take a spot. I’m going to have to work for it.
“That’s what I’ve learned being on this team.”
Arizona’s contingent of committed players with the Suncats includes Class of 2019 standout Alayna Hicks, an infielder from Mesa Red Mountain, and Class of 2020 stars Carlie Scupin, a first baseman/reliever with Tucson High, and Allie Skaggs, an infielder from Louisville (Ky.) Ballard High School.
Four of the Suncats are headed to ASU and others have committed to other colleges such as Grand Canyon, Utah State, Ole Miss and Central Florida.
Denny has her Suncats teammates and lot of other resources to draw knowledge and support from about softball and the challenges that go with playing the sport (balancing with school, training, traveling, competition and recruiting).
Chief among those resources are her parents. Her father John Denny Jr. played football and baseball for Arizona and her mother Lore (Momaday) Denny played basketball at Catalina Foothills alongside Julie Brase (Lute Olson’s granddaughter).
Her father was an all-region tight end and defensive back at Cholla as a senior in 1997. He went on to play linebacker at Arizona for Dick Tomey before finishing his college athletic career playing baseball for Jerry Stitt. After playing professional baseball, he became a trainer and consultant for young baseball and softball players.
He affectionately refers to his daughter as his “Battle Cat.”
That’s my Battle Cat! ⚔️🐈 https://t.co/IHr8VFzu5D
If the name John Denny Sr. sounds familiar, it is because he is a former Cy Young Award winner, achieving the honor in 1983 with the Philadelphia Phillies. John Denny Sr. is Kyrie’s grandfather who is from Prescott.
“I have a lot to live up to I feel like, and it’s a good reminder that I just have to keep working hard so I can live up to what my grandpa and my dad got to,” Kyrie said. “My parents have set such good examples for me what they have done in their life. I’m very happy to be their child.”
Another valuable source of preparation for the rest of her high school career and on to college is former Arizona pitcher and assistant coach Alicia Hollowell-Dunn, one of the most esteemed personal pitching trainers in Tucson.
Hollowell-Dunn trains most of the top pitching prospects in Tucson.
Hollowell-Dunn pitched for the Arizona Wildcats from 2003–2006, collecting 144 career wins and 1,768 strikeouts, both top 10 NCAA career records. She currently holds the Arizona record for career wins, strikeouts, shutouts and innings pitched.
“I love having Alicia as my pitching coach because we are similar in body size (Howell-Dunn is 6-1) so she knows how to teach me to use my body the right way,” Kyrie said. “She’s dominated at the level I want to play at and she always pushes me to be my best so that I can get where I want to go.
“She is also an incredible person that I really respect off the field as well.”
Kyrie is also a success away from the softball diamond. She is a highly promising student whose goal after completing her Division I collegiate softball career is to attend an Ivy League school and work for the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA).
How many high school students about 15 years old have a career in the CIA in mind?
“I have always been interested in criminal justice and working in the military or government, so for me, the CIA or something similar would be my dream job,” Kyrie said.
Impossible to doubt a young person with Kyrie’s smarts, work ethic and support from a strong network of family, teammates, coaches, teachers and friends.
She was selected to the Sports360AZ All-Academic First Team with a weighted GPA of 4.09 as a freshman at Pusch Ridge.
She looks at such an achievement equally proud as her strikeout total because of what that success means to her and her parents. She puts her parents on a pedestal for how they have helped develop her as a person and athlete.
“I know that I just need to work hard and do what I can to give back to them what they have given to me,” she said. “I’m not afraid to ask them what it took to get them to where they got in their sports, and they are always willing to help me.
“I really appreciate having parents who have been there and done what I want to do.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.