Nancy Evans was right where she wanted to be, even if she sometimes doubted it.
Evans was such a good softball pitcher at Hoover High she could have accepted a scholarship from just about any college. She chose Arizona, not because it has eclipsed UCLA as the best program in the country but because she preferred its academics and environment.
"I gave my verbal commitment before they won the national championship (in 1993)," said Evans, whose teams at Hoover never got past the second round of the Southern Section playoffs.
"The opportunity to win a national title is very exciting to me, but (I decided to go to where I would be) most comfortable."
Last fall, she often would look at the western horizon, think about her family and friends and wonder what she was doing in Tucson.
"There were a lot of days where I just wanted to go home," Evans said.
She struggled with the new academic load and college's softball pitching dimensions. The extra three feet from the rubber to the plate diminished Evans' biggest weapon, her rise ball. Virtually unhittable when she was in high school, the pitch was either sailing too high or flattening out.
Evans longed for those days at Hoover when she twice was named state player of the year by Cal-Hi Sports.
"I stuck it out here," she said. "I'm glad I did. It's tough being a freshman again. It's a big change. It's a challenge. But I'm having a lot of fun."
Evans carries an 11-0 record for the No. 1-ranked Wildcats (40-2). Her earned-run average might be her highest: 1.49. Her strikeout-to-walk ratio is a respectable 47-17 (in 62 2/3 innings), which pales in comparison to the phenomenal 45-1 ratio she posted last season at Hoover.
But she's still adjusting to a smaller ball and the longer pitching distance.
"I'm not completely satisfied with anything I'm doing," she said. "I'm very happy to be 11-0, but I owe a lot to my teammates. The rise ball is a hard pitch to perfect. It took a while to get my release point. At 40 feet in high school, it just jumped.
"It's improved a lot since the beginning of the year. But now I need to make it work every time I use it. When my rise ball is working, the other team has difficulty."
In 41 games, Evans (the designated player or right fielder when she's not pitching) has five home runs, 32 runs batted in and is batting .377.
That would have been an astronomical average five years ago and it is still very good with the smaller, harder ball. But she's actually batting lower than Arizona's team average (.391).
"I've been working on getting my top hand through and my pitch selection," Evans said. "I would say I was pretty aggressive in high school. I would go after pitches."
Still, Evans accomplished a remarkable feat during a recent doubleheader. She hit three consecutive home runs against eight-time national champion UCLA. Two came against Bruin ace DeeDee Weiman.
Home runs are nothing unusual in Tucson. The Wildcats have hit 60, breaking the record set last year by Cal State Northridge (40). Arizona shortstop Laura Espinoza (Wilmington Banning) has hit an NCAA-record 22.)
"I guess the one word to describe it is incredible," Evans said. "Everybody in our lineup has the potential to hit a home run. Never in my life have I seen so many.
"I actually enjoy not having to worry about carrying a team on my shoulders."
Living on her own for the first time, the studies, the travel and the level of competition have provided enough stress. When she flew home for spring vacation recently and headed straight for a Hoover game, Evans ran out of gas. She fell asleep while watching.
"I was out for two innings," she said. "It was relaxing. I needed it."
Checking the fax: Evans isn't the only local product contributing to Arizona's success. Former high school rival Jenny Dalton (Glendale, .419 batting average, eight home runs, 52 RBIs), Amy Chellevold (Thousand Oaks, .471, team-high 18 stolen bases) and Krista Gomez (Alemany, .310) played on the national championship team last season.
Fresno State senior shortstop Kim Maher (Buena) leads the Bulldogs in average (.439), hits (50), runs (31), RBIs (29) and home runs (five). She has 146 RBIs in her career, four short of the NCAA record set by Fresno State's Gina LoPiccolo from 1987-90.
In baseball, freshman second baseman Stacy Kleiner (Taft) of Nevada Las Vegas shares the team lead in batting with a .341 average but is out indefinitely because of a stress fracture in his left foot.
UC Davis senior outfielder Jason Shapiro (Taft) is batting .360. He leads the team with 26 stolen bases and 44 runs. He has struck out only 11 times in 114 at-bats. . . . UCLA junior first baseman Mike Mitchell (Rio Mesa) is batting .323 with 25 RBIs.