Making the short pilgrimage to the cozy confines of Hillenbrand Stadium has been a rite of passage for University of Arizona softball players Carli Campbell and Robyn Porter.
The duo, who attended Canyon del Oro and Ironwood Ridge high schools, respectively, have lived their childhood dream of donning the cardinal and navy blue, representing the hometown Wildcats this spring.
Campbell, a redshirt freshman outfielder, and Porter, a senior catcher, have seen varying amounts of playing time this year. She’s played in all 36 of Arizona’s games, starting 35 of them, hitting .292 with a double and five RBIs.
Porter has served as backup catcher for longtime Arizona Coach Mike Candrea during her four years in Tucson, appearing in 23 games during her career.
Motivating tomorrow’s Wildcats
Both are happy to serve as role models for younger generations of Southern Arizona softball stars, serving as an example of what’s possible when you put in the extra work to stand out.
“I definitely think we are role models,” Porter said. “I used to be them, pretty much. I remember I was a volunteer at a volunteer walk for juvenile diabetes, I believe, and I remember the U of A softball team walking up, and I got all of their autographs and it was amazing. Now, I’m that person giving it to them, so I know how they had a big impact on my softball career and seeing that I’m now one of them is pretty cool.”
Ironwood Ridge Coach David Martinez, who was an assistant during Porter’s tenure with the Nighthawks, knows how hard she’s worked to reach this point in her career.
“Just the amount of effort and time that she spent on her craft is incredible,” Martinez said. “She was going to play softball, and she was going to play softball at a high level. Her mentality was that, ‘You might be more talented than me, but you’re not going to outwork me.’”
Campbell hit a similar tone when asked whether she sees herself as a source of motivation for younger Tucsonans, touching on her own experience idolizing players of old.
“I think that’s just really cool because as a kid I never really thought it was a possibility, just because they usually look out of state [for players],” Campbell said. “It’s easier for them. And I just think that they should know that work hard, and just knowing that you belong, knowing you have that chance, and that there’s always that opportunity.
Candrea, in his 32nd year in Tucson, hopes that local players like Campbell and Porter can serve as motivation to the Wildcats of tomorrow.
“I hope they’re going to be a positive role model,” he said. “I think any time you can get kids that are local that can play at this level and compete at this level, I think it is an advantage.”
Wearing the A
Campbell, who was a first team All-State selection as a senior under CDO Coach Kelly Fowler, was offered a scholarship two years ago while playing club ball.
She remembers how shocked she was when Candrea talked to her about playing for her beloved Wildcats.
“It was unbelievable at first when they pulled me aside and offered me,” Campbell said. “I just thought it was the best feeling ever because I knew it was a dream, but it actually came true. It was awesome.”
Fowler remembers how hard Campbell played during her four-year career, praising the outfielder for her ability to bring maximum effort every day.
“She was definitely a leader for our team, and if I had to describe her, I’d say that she’s a competitive spitfire,” Fowler said. “She’s high-octane, and she’s a great kid. She came to play every single game. She wants to win. She’s just wired like that.
For Porter, getting to stay home and play on the same field as her idols has been remarkable, and is something she’ll never forget.
“It’s been really cool Seeing as how I used to be watching them all the time,” she said. “It was really cool to actually become them.”
Candrea, who has won more than 1,700 games since taking over as the coach at Arizona in 1986, feels a sense of pride in how well his players, both local and out-of-state, connect with the team’s fan base.
“I think truthfully Arizona softball is whomever we have in an Arizona uniform and how they represent this university and this program and go about their business,” Candrea said. “I can honestly say that I probably pride myself as much on that aspect than I do on the longevity of being here or the success that we’ve had.”
Martinez believes that players like Porter are proof of what’s possible when you don’t set limits on yourself.
“[Robin] went from not getting highly recruited at all as a sophomore and a junior to walking on at a dream school for her,” Martinez said. “Arizona’s always been one of the elite programs in the country. So, for Robin to have the guts to say ‘I can walk on to the U of A, I can play at the U of A.’ And younger girls coming up can see her name on our banner, and that can be huge in itself, just to show them to believe, and to never quit believing.”
That drive, and the ability to connect with fans and build lifelong relationships with teammates, is what Porter will hold onto once her career comes to an end.
“We have a blast together,” Porter said. “Just making friends for a lifetime has been the greatest thing and being able to do the sport that I love all across the country is pretty awesome.”
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