In the fall of 2015, Alyssa Palomino was taking part in her first official practice as a member of the Arizona Wildcats softball team.
She went out into the outfield to do some live reads during batting practice. She went up for a ball, and when she came back down to the ground, something happened to her that had never happened before.
“Went up for a ball, jumped up for it, and landed just on my right knee and it just tore,” she recounted from that day. “Everything in it just shattered I guess. It was very, very painful.”
She tore her ACL in that moment, which kept her out of the entire 2016 season.
But as the 2017 schedule is now less than a month away, she has recovered and is ready to get back in the lineup.
“I’m honestly feeling great,” she explained of her current status. “My knee, it’ll be a little sore from time to time. But that’s normal and expected, but as of now it feels great and I’m just ready to step on the field.”
“I’m excited to see her put on the Arizona uniform,” head coach Mike Candrea said. “I’m excited to see what she does when the game’s on the line because I really believe one of the keys to her is her ability to rise to the occasion.”
“If she’s not 100%, she’s 99%,” continued Candrea. “But yeah, she looks good. She’s moving good, swinging the bat well. I see no reason why we should have any issues with her at all.”
Palomino came to Tucson from Mission Viejo as one of the most heralded recruits of the Candrea era. She was expected to contribute right away, which made her sitting in the dugout throughout the 2016 season even more excruciating.
“It was tough,” she said. “That was my first injury ever, the first time I ever had to sit out. And it was definitely a humbling experience, just sitting back and learning from coaches and just being a teammate from a different aspect. But I’m ready to go now.”
“I would sit with Coach (Candrea) and with Caitlin (Lowe) and just ask questions,” continued Palomino. “Learning different plays in the game and what I should do in certain moments, and how to react, and keep myself composed. Just learning more about the game and what I can do to be a teammate and a leader.”
“It was very different, and I’d never seen the game from that point of view, and it was very cool to watch and to learn.”
The injury happened the first week of October 2015, and in May 2016 she started doing some softball activity again.
“Getting close to postseason, I got to come back, do a little bit with my brace,” she said of her rehab. “In summer I was working out a lot, working out with my old travel ball team. Came back in the fall, had my brace on, doing everything. And then I got to take the brace off after fall ball and now I’m back doing everything without the brace.”
This season, Palomino is likely to play either right or center field (Mandie Perez in left), and bat somewhere in the middle of the lineup.
“I’m just happy that they’re coming in and coming in hard, and helping me out,” Arizona slugger Katiyana Mauga said. “So pitchers have to throw to me because right after would be Alyssa and Jessie (Harper), Mo (Mercado), just everybody. So I’m really glad I have backup in the lineup.”
“The middle of our lineup is just so much deeper,” added Candrea. “So you have a kid like Katiyana that you have to protect a little bit or else they’re gonna throw around her, and I think this is one of those lineups where you pick your poison, because I don’t think they’re gonna be able to throw around anyone.”
Luckily for Palomino, when Arizona takes the field in their opener against Fordham on February 9th, it won’t be her first time in a competitive situation since the injury. She recently took part in Team USA tryouts, but did not make the team unlike Arizona pitcher Danielle O’Toole.
“If you look back at her body of work when she was on the J.O. (Junior Olympic) team, she did nothing but set records,” Candrea explained. “So it’s there, it’s just a matter of her getting back to where she needs to, and I think she’s getting back there. If there’s anything that hurt her probably was the lack of live ABs. When they had the tryout in January, you’re sitting there a whole month, so it can effect a hitter that doesn’t get the live she might have needed in the month of December, but I think her time will come.”
After losing only one senior from last year’s team, Palomino is one of many reasons that Arizona softball has a lot of hype heading into this season. Certainly if she can return to her pre-injury form, opponents will have a lot more to deal with in the middle of the lineup than any other Wildcat team in recent memory.