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Alyssa Palomino to return to Arizona’s outfield in 2019: ‘It’s her happy place’

The All-American is moving back to her natural position after a season at first base

Photo by Ryan Kelapire

Alyssa Palomino is a self-described “outfielder at heart.”

Nothing compares to the adrenaline rush she gets when she makes a diving catch, robs a home run or guns down a runner at home plate.

“It’s just something that’s so fun to me,” she said.

And after a year at first base, the redshirt junior is getting another chance to do what she loves. The All-American is returning to Arizona’s outfield for the 2019 season, she proudly announced before Monday’s practice, the first time she was available to the media this season.

“It’s been a lot of fun,” she said of the transition. “I’m excited to see how it goes out there.”

It could be a little nerve-wracking, too, though Palomino is doing her best not to think about that. After all, it was in the outfield where she tore both her ACLs in her first two seasons at the UA.

The Mission Viejo, California native missed the entire 2016 season after injuring her right knee, then missed the postseason in 2017 after injuring her left knee, prompting the move to first base.

But Palomino played in 56 of 59 games in 2018 when she hit .363 and led the Pac-12 in homers, and said she is feeling “great” heading into 2019.

“I spent the entire summer and this fall just working on getting my muscle back and having that stability (in my knee)” she said. “I’m 100 percent now and ready to go.”

And doing everything she realistically can to avoid another injury.

“I can’t go out there and play scared,” Palomino said. “I go out there and just have fun with it. And I do my prehab rehab when I’m out and with my trainer, so we’re doing a lot of things to prevent it.”

It might seem risky to move Palomino back to the outfield, knowing how valuable she is to Arizona’s lineup and how much another injury could hurt the team’s chances of reaching the Women’s College World Series, but head coach Mike Candrea listed two reasons why it makes sense.

For one, Palomino “loves being out there.” For another, Arizona’s outfield could use the help.

The Wildcats graduated two starters in Aleah Craighton and Ashleigh Hughes and only return two players — sophomore slappers Jenna Kean and Carli Campbell — who have a decent amount of experience out there.

Plus, the Wildcats are well-equipped at first base after they added Rylee Pierce, a transfer from Missouri, who was second-team All-SEC last season.

“Right now she’s healthy, she’s moving good and the thing about Alyssa people don’t realize is that her gift is her first step,” Candrea said. “She’s definitely not as quick as a Jenna Kean, but she covers a lot of ground because she gets good jumps off the bat. But the big thing is the leadership she can bring to that outfield.”

A role Palomino is looking forward to.

“Both seniors had a lot of authority and leadership out there, and that’s a cool thing for me being the oldest out there, being able to see how the young ones are coming up,” she said. “It doesn’t matter how young they are, they’re studs and it’s cool to be able to play with them.”

As far as how UA’s outfield will align, that remains to be seen. Palomino said she has been playing a lot of center field this preseason, the spot that generally requires the most moxie and mobility. She is also spending some time in right field, and noted she used to play left field in her travel ball days.

“We’ve been mixing and matching,” she said. “So we’ll see how it turns out when season starts.”

Palomino played center in 2017, but said she doesn’t prefer one spot to another.

Just being in the outfield is good enough for her.

“It’s her happy place,” said Arizona pitcher Taylor McQuillin, who grew up with Palomino in Southern California. “She’s more comfortable out there. She’ll play her role wherever she has to, but I think outfield is her calling and she knows that.”

Arizona Softball All-American Alyssa Palomino reveals which position she will be playing this season

Posted by AZ Desert Swarm on Monday, January 14, 2019