The University of Arizona will host the USA Softball Women's National Team in the Wildcats' sold-out home opener tonight.
The game will be a homecoming for four former UA softball players – Jennie Finch, Alicia Hollowell, Lovieanne Jung and Caitlin Lowe – and UA head coach Mike Candrea.
Candrea, who is taking time away from his position at the UA to coach the national team in preparation for the Olympics this summer in Beijing, was emotional as he talked about playing against his Wildcats.
"It's always tough," he said in a shaky voice. "I'll be glad when this game is over."
Candrea said that while it's hard to be away from the UA, he's excited to be able to represent the United States in this summer's Olympic games.
"This is the greatest honor that's ever been bestowed on me," Candrea said. He coached the national team to a gold medal at the 2004 Olympics in Athens.
Assistant coach Larry Ray will serve as interim head coach as Candrea travels with the national team. While Candrea will travel to 40 cities between now and August, he will see Arizona play for at least one full weekend every month and is scheduled to see them play in 17 games this season, including nine home games.
Finch, who led the UA to a national title in 2001, said that while it feels strange to sit in the visiting team dugout, Hillenbrand still feels like home to her.
"It's so special to come back to Hillenbrand," Finch said. "It's the best place to play – the people are the best."
Lowe, in her first year away from the UA, also talked about her appreciation of UA fans.
"Tucson fans never stop being your fans once you leave," she said, adding that she'll feel weird playing against her former teammates.
The Wildcats, who have just returned from the Kajikawa Classic in Tempe, Ariz., were ranked No. 1 in preseason polls by ESPN.com/USA Softball, the Pacific-10 Conference and USA Today/National Fastpitch Coaches Association. They are back-to-back NCAA champions, winning the title last season and in 2006.
Senior pitcher Taryne Mowatt and senior catcher Callista Balko were named to the USA Softball National Collegiate Player of the Year preseason watch list. Mowatt also was named a preseason all-American by ESPN.com
Arizona has led the NCAA in average home softball attendance for the past two years. Tickets for tonight's game sold out in just five days.
Season tickets and individual game tickets, with the exception of tonight's game, can be purchased by visiting http://www.arizonaathletics.com, by calling 621-CATS or by visiting the McKale Ticket Office.