They know hell, all three. Arizona Wildcats softball coach Mike Candrea lost his first wife, Sue, to a brain aneurysm in 2004.

Mark Reitan's UA softball-playing daughter, Julie, died almost 13 years ago, at age 21, from diabetes complications.

And Lini Koria, the Wildcats' designated player, endured the death of her mother, Charlene, from a heart attack March 7.

The three - who all lost beloved women, at different ages, way too soon - met April 10 before a game in Seattle.

Mark Reitan, a Lutheran pastor, ate breakfast with his friend Candrea, and then, at the coach's request, spoke with Lini and her 22-year-old sister, Deborah, for an hour and a half.

They shared their memories of both Charlene and Julie.

"You can't really ever say 'I know what you're feeling,'" Reitan said. "It's more, 'I know what you're experiencing.

"Our hearts have been broken like hers is broken."

The year after Julie died, the Arizona Wildcats kept her laminated picture in their pockets. Lini keeps a photo of her mom in her helmet.

Julie's face and name are memorialized on the Hillenbrand Stadium wall. Charlene's initials - alongside those of recruit Brianne Matthews, who committed suicide in February - are stuck on UA helmets and caps.

Rubber bracelets made by teammate Alicia Banks - who, along with the team, attended Koria's funeral after a Fullerton, Calif., tournament - memorialize Charlene with a Bible verse.

Reminders are everywhere.

"I embrace it," Koria said. "I feel like my mom's there. Who wouldn't hurt?

"For me, it would be hard to block it out."

Charlene wouldn't have wanted her to. The day she died, she had planned to follow a UA doubleheader on the computer.

When the family called Candrea with the news - Lini's cell phone was in her locker - they asked that he allow her to finish the game first.

Lini's time off the field - walking alone, driving or even shopping - can be more painful. She keeps waiting for the phone to ring.

"I told her there's a grieving process that you go through," Candrea said, "and you can't hold that back."

A devout Christian, Lini has spent more time with her teammates, but she still gets lonely.

"Sometimes they kind of give me a blank face," she said. "They don't know what to say."

Mark - who served as an Olympic chaplain and married Candrea to second wife Tina - isn't so sure, either.

He listened to the Korias tell stories, and encouraged them to keep grieving. It is an expression of love.

"I don't chafe against my grief," Mark said.

Julie spoke Swahili, Mark said, and told him weeks before her death that she wanted to go to Africa. Mark vowed to, and met a Lutheran minister who needed help teaching caregiving skills to pastors in Tanzania. He went in 2004.

A deaconess there asked him to meet a family of children whose parents had died of AIDS. When he did, one daughter was out searching for the evening meal.

Her name was Julie.

Mark smiled. These would be his grandchildren, he decided. Every year since, he has returned to Tanzania, building them a house and enrolling them in school.

"There's a gift from God in there," he said.

The story wowed Lini.

"It's amazing how things work," she said. "The team was in Fullerton the weekend of my mother's service. What are the odds?"

And what are the chances, macabre as they may be, that three members of the UA softball family have experienced the same pain?

That they're there for each other?

"There's a lot of things my team has done that I will never, ever forget," Lini said. "They make me feel like this is a family.

"My mom knows that I'm playing. She's watching me."


The NFL draft

1Did you get the memo? We all must give up three whole days to watch the NFL draft now. As easy as it is to roll your eyes at the most glorified nonsporting event in sports, it's always fun to watch. On Thursday night, the Wildcats' Rob Gronkowski might even be selected in the first round. That trumps "30 Rock" and "The Office"

El otro Tour

2The Tour of the Tucson Mountains is a cycling event that starts in Marana and goes around - not through - the hilly stuff. Still, the 73-mile main event, which takes place Sunday, sounds plenty challenging. We prefer our tours in Spanish, though - El Tour de Las Montañas de Tucson, anyone?


3How's this for a week? The UA baseball team travels to Tempe on Tuesday, then faces UCLA at home Friday through Sunday. The Bruins were ranked No. 1 by Baseball America entering this past weekend, and the Sun Devils were third. It's a daunting six days for the No. 24 Wildcats nonetheless.


4UA sophomore Deanna Graham will compete in the individual all-around competition at the NCAA national championships starting Thursday. The Wildcats didn't reach the meet as a team, but Graham earned an invitation by posting one of the best three all-around scores for any gymnast whose team was not invited to the Gainesville, Fla., event.


5Remember Jerryd Bayless? The former Wildcats guard, who would still have one season of eligibility had he stayed at Arizona, should see increased minutes in the first round of the NBA playoffs against the Suns. There, the Portland Trail Blazers' second-year player will see former UA great Channing Frye. Marcus Williams, meanwhile, is in the playoffs … in the NBA D-League. Go Austin Toros.