By Tom Callahan
You’ve probably seen geese flying in a V formation at some point, migrating to warmer climes in winter or headed back home for the summer. There are a few things that make geese unique, and not only in their formation. For instance, different birds will lead the V at different times while others drop back to help everyone keep their energy up. If a goose is wounded or otherwise disabled, another bird will break off from the pack to care for it. Geese not only stick together but they look out for each other. And that’s the idea Arizona Softball Head Coach Mike Candrea has molded his team around as they look to make it back to the Women’s College World Series.
“There was a time this year when I was trying to find something to bring the focus back to one thing,”Candrea said after the Wildcats’ 1-0 win over St. Francis Friday night to open the team’s Tucson Regional schedule. “I was going through some old stuff and we’ve used it before, we rode it a long way back in the 90s and I’ll never forget… in ’97 we used the same theme. We were getting ready to play UCLA at the College World Series and when a flock of geese flew by in a V formation and I knew damn well things were going to be good and they were.”
That 1997 team went on to win the Wildcats’ fifth NCAA Championship in seven years and is remembered as one of the most dominant teams in U of A history, going a perfect 30-0 at home for the first time in school history and finishing the year 61-5.
“There’s a lot of similarities (to geese) with a team that you would like to have” Candrea continued. “I think the great thing about our game is sometimes the leader of that V has to change, sometimes from pitch to pitch. I thought it was very fitting and I’m glad that they bought into it so we got some t-shirts with the flock of geese on the back and the other thing that we’ve used is that when geese communicate they honk. I wanted them to be a bit more verbal so we honk – very loudly – trying to bring the energy that we need. Trying to make sure that someone is carrying the flag, leading each and every inning.”
Sophomore shortstop Jessie Harper, who provided the winning margin with her 18th home run of the year in the fourth inning, says “it’s been really fun. Especially on the bus rides home after a big win, especially after (beating) ASU we were honking all the way! It’s definitely a cool thing to latch onto and embrace right now.”
After some big wins the the team lines up in the V formation on the field. In fact the team even uses it as a hashtag sometimes in their social media.
“We use it on some of our pictures,” said Harper. “We’ve really embraced the honk on our team.”
While Friday’s opening win was more squeaker than honker, the Wildcats will take it.
“At this stage of the game, a win’s a win,” said Candrea. “We’ll take them any way we can. People think you’re going to put eight, nine, ten hits up on the board all the time and it doesn’t work that way. Hopefully we saved up some hits for tomorrow.”
The Wildcats will face North Dakota State at 5 p.m. ET in the winners bracket.