8 titles later, Candrea remembers starting at bottom

2011-08-13T00:00:00Z 2011-08-13T17:06:18Z 8 titles later, Candrea remembers starting at bottom Arizona Daily Star
August 13, 2011 12:00 am

In celebration of Arizona's centennial, the Star is featuring our picks for the 100 best athletes, moments and teams.

Throughout the summer, we have been showcasing our list - with the first 90 in no particular order.

Later this month, Greg Hansen will choose his top 10, with a column on each.

Mike Candrea

Achievement

Mike Candrea was hired to coach Arizona's softball team Aug. 25, 1985, three months after he piloted Central Arizona College to its second NJCAA national title.

Because it was a few days before classes began for 1985-86, Candrea was unable to recruit.

The UA's softball program was in such disrepair that it had just four home games during the 1986 season, Candrea's first. Games would be played at Gittings Field, an abandoned patch of grass used by the school's P.E. classes.

"Sometimes I wondered what I had gotten myself into," said Candrea, who grew up as a baseball-playing infielder at Phoenix Sunnyslope High School. "We started at the bottom."

Arizona reached the Women's College World Series in his third year, 1988. In Year 6, on May 26, 1991, the Wildcats whipped three-time defending national champion UCLA to win their first of eight NCAA titles.

"When I was recruited, Coach Candrea told me we'd win the national championship," shortstop Julie Standering said in 1991. "It took a lot of faith."

Two years later, inspired by Candrea's success, the UA built Hillenbrand Stadium, then a state-of-the-art softball venue. Last year, Arizona broke the NCAA single-season attendance record.

Candrea became the most prominent coach in worldwide softball. He spent eight seasons as the USA Olympic coach. His 2004 Seoul Olympic team went undefeated to win the gold medal, outscoring opponents in Korea 54-1. His 2008 team won a silver medal in Beijing.

That's pretty crazy for a guy who spent five seasons as an assistant baseball coach at Central Arizona College, 1976-80 - helping CAC win the 1976 NJCAA title.

"I had to be talked into it at the beginning," he said of being offered the softball job. "But I wanted to be a teacher and coach, and the switch allowed me to do both. So I took it."

Candrea coached Arizona to NCAA titles in 1991, 1993, 1994, 1996, 1997, 2001, 2006 and 2007.

Asked what goals remain, he said, simply "to win it again."

Hometown; age

New Orleans; 55

By the numbers

Arizona won 70 consecutive games at Hillenbrand Stadium from 2000 to 2002 and had a 45-game winning streak there from 1996 to 1998.

Greg Hansen

On StarNet: See the archive at: azstarnet.com/sportscentennial

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