Year That Was 2021

Year That Was: June’s Top Five Developments in Southern Arizona



Mike Candrea during the opening round of the 2021 Women’s College World Series (Troy Hutchison/

After arriving in Tucson in 1985, and taking over a program that was not close to being on the radar nationall, Arizona coach Mike Candrea  announced his retirement June 7. “It has been an honor to represent the University of Arizona for 36 years,” said Candrea. “I am indebted to every player, coach and member of my support staff that has made the Arizona softball experience one that I will cherish forever. When I arrived in 1985, I wanted to build a culture of excellence and compete consistently at the highest levels of Division 1 softball. Most of all, our goa was to prepare our student-athletes for life after softball and build relationships that would last a lifetime.” During Candrea’s time in Tucson, he turned Arizona softball into the gold standard, racking up 1,647 wins, making an NCAA record 34-straight postseasons, 24 appearances in the Women’s College World Series, and winning the national title eight times. He was also the U.S. Olympic coach in 2004 (winning the gold that year in Athens) and 2008.


Jay Johnson at his LSU introductory press conference (LSU photo)

LSU hired Jay Johnson away from Arizona on June 24 with a base contract of $1.4 million contract. His base salary at Arizona is close to $550,000. Johnson, 44, went 208-114 with two College World Series appearances in six years. “This is the opportunity of my lifetime,” Johnson said during his introductory press conference at LSU. “A lot of people will look at it and go, wait, why did you do that? What are you doing? You are a West Coast guy. That’s comfortable. That’s not what I’m about. You stare down the challenge of that, you figure out how to put the pieces in place to be successful, and then we’re going for it.” Arizona team finished 45-18 this season and won the Pac-12 title, the program’s first outright conference title since 1992. Arizona played in Omaha in Johnson’s first season in 2016, when the Wildcats lost in the championship series in three games against Coastal Carolina. LSU had a vacancy when Paul Mainieri retired after 15 seasons with the Tigers. He made five trips to the College World Series and won the championship in 2009. Nate Yeskie, Arizona’s high-profile pitching coach the last two seasons, also left to become Texas A&M’s pitching coach. Johnson is the first Arizona baseball coach to leave for another coaching job. J.F. “Pop” McKale, Frank Sancet, Jerry Kindall, Jerry Stitt and Andy Lopez all retired from coaching when they left the program. Hours after news broke of Johnson’s hire, 2022 infielder Mikey Romero flipped from Arizona to LSU. Twelve Arizona players reportedly entered the transfer portal, including All-American infielder Jacob Berry.


Delaney Schnell (Arizona Athletics photo)

Tucson High graduate Delaney Schnell of Arizona and Jessica Parratto (Indiana) scored 930 points to claim the top spot at the Women’s Synchronized 10-Meter Platform trials held in Indianapolis on June 11, qualifying for the Tokyo Olympics. A day later, Schnell won the individual 10-meter Platform to qualify for the Olympics in that event. Schnell was in third place after the first round but she moved up to the second spot after round two, 14.3 points behind Murphy Bromberg. Schnell pulled ahead of the field in the next round by 3.85 points and she came away with the victory with 1021.90 points to 984.70 for Katrina Young. “Honestly, it hasn’t hit me yet, I said this before, but it doesn’t feel real yet,” Schnell told TeamUSA, “It’s a lifelong dream of mine first with gymnastics and then diving. It’s crazy to say that I finally done it.” The Tokyo Olympics are slated to being on July 23. Schnell joins former Sabino softball standout Kelsey Harshman at the Olympics. Harshman qualified for the Olympics as a member of Team Canada in softball competition. Former Canyon del Oro baseball standout Ian Kinsler is scheduled to play for Team Israel. Schnell won an AIA state high school diving championship for Tucson. Abdi Abdirahman made the USA Olympic Team as a distance runner but the Tucson High grad did not compete in high school.


Caitlin Lowe during her press conference at McKale Center after her hire to replace Mike Candrea (Troy Hutchison/

Following the retirement of Candrea on June 7, Arizona Athletics announced later that day the promotion of Caitlin Lowe to become the head coach. One of the best players in Arizona history and the history of the sport, Lowe has spent the last nine seasons under Candrea and will now become the Wildcats’ seventh head coach in program history.  “Coach Candrea has built a culture of excellence that puts his players at the forefront,” said Lowe. “He has shown us all what it looks like to fiercely pursue our passion. He has led this team with integrity, class, and the upmost humility. I could not have asked for a better mentor in this game and most importantly in life. I take great pride in carrying on the tradition of what it means to be an Arizona Wildcat. I am so honored and extremely humbled to represent Tucson and the University of Arizona as your next head coach. Bear Down!”


Arizona achieved its 18th trip to the College World Series (Arizona Athletics photo)

Arizona’s baseball team gave Ole Miss a hard punch in Game One, the Rebels responded with their best cuts in Game Two, and after 46 runs scored in the Tucson Super Regional, it was the Wildcats who delivered the knockout blow in Game Three on June 12. Arizona qualified for its 18th College World Series and third in the last nine years with its 16-3 victory over Ole Miss of the big, bad SEC. The Wildcats advanced to their second College World Series under Johnson in his sixth year, topping legendary coaches Jerry Kindall and Andy Lopez with that feat. It took Kindall seven years to reach his second CWS and Lopez 11 years at Arizona.

NEXT: A look at the top five developments of July 2021

CLICK ON THIS LINK to access a complete rundown of the top developments of June 2021 in Southern Arizona

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FOLLOW @JAVIERJMORALES ON TWITTER! 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, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports,, 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. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District

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