If you want to know what it’s like to coach against a legend, just wait until tomorrow and ask Ann Pierson. Her Grand Canyon University softball team plays the No. 5-ranked Arizona Wildcats later today.
Mike Candrea, in his 32nd season as the Cats’ head coach, will be in the opposing dugout. Three days ago, Candrea posted a 5-2 victory against Washington that makes him the first coach to collect 1,500 Division I softball wins.
In a college coaching career that has spanned 1,882 games, Candrea also has reached that record-setting plateau faster than any coach in NCAA history – in any sport, any division. His winning percentage is .798.
Michigan’s Carol Hutchins, who is in her 33rd season guiding the Wolverines, has six more career wins – but some of those came while coaching at the Division II level. All of Candrea’s wins came while coaching at Arizona.
He was hired at Arizona after winning two NJCAA World Series titles in four years at Central Arizona College in Coolidge.
During his three decades coaching the Wildcats, Candrea has picked up eight national titles and made 21 trips to the Women’s College World Series in the last 27 seasons. His 30 straight post-season appearances (all except his first year) make up the longest active streak in the nation – and is tied for the longest streak ever in college softball.
Pierson, too, is a stable force at her school. She’s in her 13th season guiding the Antelopes but is the only head coach in the program’s history. GCU is in the final year of a four-year transition from D-II to Division I play and Pierson has led the ‘Lopes to success while adjusting to D-I competition.
Her 2014 team posted 27 wins in the first year of transition and won the Western Athletic Conference title, earning Pierson conference Coach of the Year honors. The next year, it was another 27 wins and a second-place finish in the WAC. Last year the team went 35-15 with a line-up full of freshmen, and then carried that momentum through to this season with an 18-1 start.
While Pierson may be able to pick up a few tips from Candrea during today’s doubleheader in Tucson, the lesson will come at a price. It will likely be another humbling experience for a 25-9 team that enjoyed much success during the first half of the schedule but has been taking its lumps lately.
The ‘Lopes won just two of the five games they played in the Santa Clara Round Robin tournament two weeks ago, and then had to deal with No. 6-ranked Washington last week. The Huskies swept the doubleheader, 14-4 and 7-0.
And now the ‘Lopes will attempt to stay in the game against the team that just mercy-ruled the Huskies last week, 12-0 in five innings, and then came back in the nightcap for a 5-2 victory.
Here’s what Pierson’s squad is facing this afternoon:
Arizona’s 32-1 start to the season is its best in 13 years. The Cats are outscoring their opponets 260-34, averaging almost eight runs a game, which ranks second in the nation.
They lead the Pac-12 in slugging percentage (.579), runs scored (260), hits (320), RBIs (227), and home runs (48). Their offense has hit more home runs than their opponents have total runs.
And that’s going to be a concern. Pierson felt that defense was a big problem for her ‘Lopes against Washington. “We just had way too many mistakes,” she said after the final game. “We just really have to work to clean that up.”
But that’s only half the problem they will have with Arizona. The Cats’ pitching staff has a team ERA of 0.87 – also the second-best stat in the country.
This could feel like a really long afternoon for the small Christian college that finds itself playing with the big girls.
(Photo: Arizona Athletics)