The trend back in the day was to commit to a softball power like Arizona before reaching high school especially with coaches able to contact potential recruits in their early teens.
Carlie Scupin, the Tucson High School power-hitting star, committed four years ago to Mike Candrea’s program when she was 14 years old and in the eighth grade.
About the same time before they entered their high school careers, five other recruits committed to Arizona: pitcher Giulia Koutsoyanopulos of Mission Viejo, Calif.; pitcher Jessie Fontes of Fillmore, Calif.; infielder twins Aris and Sophia Carroll of Phoenix South Ridge, and outfielder Jasmine Perezchica of La Quinta, Calif.
Utility player Allie Skaggs of Ironwood Ridge by way of Louisville, Ky., grew up in Tucson. Her childhood dreams included playing for Arizona.
Her teammate this season at Ironwood Ridge, pitcher/infielder Devyn Netz, committed to Arizona as a junior last year at Maranatha High School at Pasadena (Calif.). Devyn and her family moved last summer to Tucson for her senior year so they could be close to her brother Dawson, who was recruited by Jay Johnson to play baseball at Arizona.
So seven of the eight members of Arizona’s recruiting class, ranked No. 1 by Extra-Inning Softball, remained committed to Candrea throughout their high school experience.
That is rare and difficult to do now since the NCAA two years ago prevented Division I coaches from communicating with recruits, their parents, their current coaches or any other third-party about their recruiting before September 1 of their junior year of high school.
“It seems like we’ve been recruiting them for 20 years, to be honest with you,” Candrea quipped today during a ZOOM press conference.
The high-level recruits along with the accomplished returning seniors, Olympic catcher Dejah Mulipola, and other members of this year’s Arizona team has Candrea even saying that he expects the Wildcats to contend for a national championship in 2021.
He mentioned a significant benefit for the freshmen will be their observations of how seniors such as Mulipola, Jessie Harper, Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza, Mariah Lopez and Alyssa Denham conduct themselves every day on and off the diamond. That dynamic was made possible when the NCAA granted seniors another year of eligibility because the COVID-19 pandemic cut the season short after only 25 games.
“They’re going to have some great role models to look at,” Candrea said of the freshmen. “It’s one thing to talk about how to play the game, it’s another thing to see someone actually do it. I think that’s what we’re going to be able to give them, that valuable tool of watching great players go about their craft each and every day — how they prepare, how they go about the mental game — and being able to ask questions.
“I want to put the freshmen in the back pockets of all of our seniors and try to be able to pick their brains and be able to get to know everything that they can about the game and how to play the game.”
The dominoes started to fall toward this situation when a majority of the recruits pledged to Candrea straight out of their travel-ball careers. They then improved each year when they were in high school. The pandemic was unfortunate but a silver-lining will be having one of his most talented lineups in his 35 years at Arizona in 2021.
“We knew that we had a pretty special group of young ladies and I think their ability to hang through all of this and the process tells you a little bit about the type of people they are and what it means to put on an Arizona uniform,” Candrea said of the recruiting class. “It’s going to be really fun. I think it’s a group of talented players, but they’re also very good people and high academic people. I know that they’re just biting at the bit right now to have an opportunity to put on that uniform and play the game that they love.
“The one tough thing has been trying to keep this going for so long because you never know what’s going to happen with a seventh grader and eighth grader making a decision. If they’re going to go to college, things could change. But I really felt that we had a group of kids that had good backgrounds, good families, good foundations, and (they) work very hard at the game. I think the game is important to them. They’re very competitive. They want to play on a great team. They’re going to have an opportunity to do that.”
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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.