Review: What Arizona softball looks like under coach Caitlin Lowe

The offseason is here, with all Arizona sports wrapped up for 2021-22 and the 2022-23 campaigns still a bit off.

Which makes it a great time to take a step back and see how all of the Wildcats programs are doing.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve taken a look at each of AU’s 19 men’s and women’s programs to see what shape they’re in and what their prospects are in the near future. We break down each team and assess their performance with their current coaching staff, looking at the state of the program before they arrived and comparing it to now while looking at this season and beyond.

Next : At Caitlin Lowe’s softball team.

What it looked like before

From 1986 to June 2021, Arizona softball was synonymous with one name: Mike Candrea. After the 2021 season, the legendary coach finally retired, although he remained with the Arizona Athletic Department as a “special adviser”.

For 34 years, the Wildcats have gone to the NCAA playoffs without fail. They have won eight titles. They have produced dozens of players from all conferences and across the United States.

However, it had become difficult to reach that ultimate Women’s College World Series plateau lately. Arizona finally returned to the last eight in 2019 after an eight-year absence. They even won a game, but they haven’t been a real threat to win a title since 2017, when they were knocked out in the Super Regionals despite being ranked No.2 in the country.

Candrea had been grooming Lowe to be his successor for several years. When he quit, Arizona got his wish for his protege to take over. She entered a team made up largely of freshmen and sophomores, although several were redshirt sophomores. She was young, she was largely inexperienced, but this was her team after all.

Where are things now

The softball program had perhaps the craziest ups and downs of any campus program in 2022. Individual player performance and team performance as a whole went from the highest of highs to lowest of the lows during the season.

Arizona had the best competition early in the season, losing to No. 2 Alabama in just Game 2. He also faced eventual national champion Oklahoma. Right from the start, the team showed that they could compete with intermediate teams, they could dominate lower level teams, but they could not threaten elite teams.

This led to the Wildcats finally dropping the last poll in early May and finding themselves tied with California for the final time in the Pac-12 shortly thereafter. They were thrown a lifeline when the NCAA committee placed them in their 35th straight playoffs – and they took full advantage of the opportunity.

Arizona’s throwing improved dramatically in the playoffs and they raced all the way to the Women’s College World Series. They even won a match there. It looked like they were set for next season, although some needs had to be met via transfer.

While several players who didn’t get much playing time were traded immediately after the season, it looked like Arizona’s top 10 players would be back. They would need the help of the transfer portal, but they were a promising group.

Then the two receivers Sharlize Palacios and center player Janelle Meono registered their names on the portal at the end of June. There had been rumors that Meoño was unhappy and would return to her original first season in 2020, but they always seemed to be just that: rumors and gossip. This time they weren’t.

That makes a total of seven players from across the diamond who transferred after last season. The catch-up position is not a huge hole. Izzy Pacho, who finished the season as an All-West Region first-team selection after a phenomenal year at third base, is originally a catcher and prefers the position. The Wildcats will also welcome a highly valued first-year wide receiver Oliva DiNardo of the Bay Area.

In the outfield, Wildcats return All-West Region third-team selections Jasmine Perezchica and Paige Dimler. Perezchica was very effective as a first hitter when Meoño was injured. They also bring dakota kennedya player Extra Inning Softball considers the best center in the class.

Return of the Wildcats Allie Skaggs, their only All-American selection this season as well. Skaggs and Pacho rallied like the leaders they’ve been all season to reassure teammates and fans following transfer announcements this week.

A big question

There’s one and only one question about Arizona right now: Can the coaches get quality players out of the gate? The Wildcats are down to just 13 players on next year’s roster, including just two pitchers. As one top player after another has committed to other programs, Arizona has yet to meet any of its transfer needs. Having two players drop a portal bomb on them at the end of June didn’t help matters.

The Wildcats have struggled to attract top pitchers for years. Recruitment services have generally been unreliable, each of them varying wildly in the estimation of different players. What is clear once they arrive on campus, however, is that pitchers who are able to come in and make an immediate impact as new students don’t choose Arizona or are not recruited by Arizona.

The best transfers Arizona has welcomed into the circle over the past decade were Danielle O’Toole, Alyssa Denhamand Mariah Lopez. The only one of the three who came in and presented himself as a legitimate Pac-12 ace was O’Toole. Denham was a very solid No. 2 pitcher. Lopez fell short of expectations of being a dominating ace once she got that opportunity in Arizona.

The Wildcats have very good receiver options, although they likely need a third receiver for depth. They have really good outfielders, and it’s a position that’s not as hard to find anyway. However, they will never return to the winner’s circle unless they have a dominant throw.

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