Two summers ago, I sent an email to Arizona’s media relations contact, asking for a time that I could talk with Mike Candrea about the former Wildcats who were participating in the Americas Olympic qualifier. The next day, I had a response in my inbox from Candrea himself. He’d be glad to talk with me, he said, and gave me his available time.
When we got on the phone, what followed was a half-hour discussion about more than a half-dozen players that Candrea had once tutored and who were now set to battle one another for a spot in the Olympics. As we spoke about some players individually, Candrea’s voice oozed with pride. It didn’t matter if the current subject was a recent All-American or a long-since graduated role player; their coach had thoughts to give and stories to tell about each one.
One-third of the Olympic softball field in Tokyo this summer will feature players who played under Candrea. Team Mexico’s pitching staff is led by former Wildcats Taylor McQuillin and Danielle O’Toole; Team USA features current Wildcat catcher Dejah Mulipola behind the plate.
Candrea himself is one of international softball’s most legendary figures after leading Team USA to Olympic medals in 2004 and 2008. Earlier this spring, he signed on as an adviser to the Italian National team that will represent Europe in Tokyo.
Beyond Candrea’s influence on the international game of softball, his impact can be felt in every nook and cranny of college softball, as well.
Now preparing for the last few games of his 37th season leading Arizona’s program, Candrea is the all-time winningest coach in NCAA softball history. The victor of nearly 1,700 games while at UA, Candrea has led Arizona to eight national titles and has never had a losing season as the Wildcats’ head coach.
In the coaching world, a number of Candrea’s pupils have gone on to also become his contemporaries. Program greats Caitlin Lowe and Taryne Mowatt now serve as Candrea’s assistants at UA; since joining the coaching ranks, Lowe has served only on staff at her alma mater while Mowatt coached at Cal Baptist and Ole Miss before joining the UA staff. Fellow Wildcat alumni Kristie Fox (UNLV head coach) and O’Toole (Cal State Fullerton pitching coach) are among those who have gone onto coaching careers after being tutored in the Arizona program.
A look at even some specialized corners of the softball world finds Wildcats galore. When ESPN set their television broadcaster pairings for this year’s NCAA tournament, three of the sixteen analysts chosen were former Arizona softball players. Take a look at the top 10 list for career home runs in Division I and you’ll see more than half the list with an Arizona Wildcats notation beside their name.
Rumors have swirled that 2021 will be Candrea’s last season as the Arizona head coach. While he has not directly answered the question when it’s been posed, whenever Candrea does elect to retire, his impact on the game of softball will be felt in innumerable ways for years and decades to come.