Editor’s note: The Star’s Zack Rosenblatt is counting down the 50 best athletes on the UA campus right now, with help from athletes, coaches and those close to the program.
No. 45: Jenna Kean
The details: Kean enters her freshman season with the Wildcats with great expectations. She is the highest-rated recruit of the Wildcats’ sixth-ranked incoming class. FloSoftball listed Kean, an outfielder, as the 44th-best recruit in the nation. Kean picked the Wildcats over Pac-12 rival UCLA, and looking back said the decision was an easy one.
“I went on a visit to UCLA right before I went to Arizona and after seeing the campus and being around the softball team and coaches I knew that Arizona was the perfect place for me,” Kean said. “I felt as home as soon as I stepped on Arizona’s campus.”
The value: Arizona had an eight-person senior class last season, and three of them — outfielder Mandie Perez batted leadoff, shortstop Mo Mercado and third baseman Katiyana Mauga —were significant pieces in the UA lineup. The Wildcats also lost reserve outfielders Eva Watson and Alexis Dotson. Alyssa Palomino could move to first base after suffering back-to-back season-ending knee injuries, leaving Kean as a prime candidate to replace her in center field. Kean’s speed and slap-hitting ability will prove particularly important, especially with the loss of Perez.
Why Kean? UA coach Mike Candrea consistently reels in recruiting classes ranked among the best in the nation. Then, he plays them: Freshmen Jessie Harper, Dejah Mulipola and Reyna Carranco were some of Arizona’s most consistent hitters last season. Kean will need to contribute, too, and her success in high school — she was a key contributor as her team won a state title — suggests she’ll be up for the task.
“I am still working hard to be where I want to be, but I feel that when I get there (to Arizona) I will be able to contribute a lot to the team with my speed, slapping and outfield abilities,” she said.
Proof she’s good: In 14 Sunset League games, Kean hit .600 with five RBIs, 11 runs scored and seven stolen bases. Kean helped clinch a CIF Division I championship for Los Alamitos with what the Orange County Register described as a “tremendous game-ending grab” to make the final out. SoCal Sidelines described Kean has a “speedy slapper that wreaks havoc on defenses when she gets on base.” Kean was selected to a Southern California All-Star team that earlier this summer competed against a Team USA squad — which includes former UA pitcher Danielle O’Toole — competing for the 2020 Olympics. The All-Stars lost 10-0.
What Kean can accomplish: Kean will be a likely candidate for at least Pac-12 all-freshman team honors, and possibly even all-conference, as 41 players in total are selected across three teams. Depending on her level of production in her first year, Kean would also have a shot at the Pac-12 Freshman of the Year award.
Coachspeak: “Jenna is a quick kid. She’s an Arizona prototypical short-gamer. She’s a good outfielder and very fast. I’m very impressed with her athleticism.” — Candrea in November
She said it: “I did watch their last couple of games in the (super regionals) and I was shocked when they lost. I believed they had it and worked hard all year to get there but fell short. I wanted them to make it so bad and even though they didn’t, I know they would have been one of the top teams in the World Series. Next year I really do think the team will make it and I can’t even explain how amazing it would be to be a part of that.” — Kean