Rylee Pierce had spent two years on the Missouri softball team. Then, suddenly, just weeks before her junior season was set to start, her head coach was fired.
Pierce stuck through the season and ended up a Second Team All-SEC selection in 2018. The righty put up career highs in batting average (.318), runs scored (37) and home runs (8). She hit well against both right-handers (.303) and lefties (.429).
During the tough stretch of SEC conference play, she led the Tigers in both RBI and runs scored. Shortly after the season ended, though, she was on the move, joining the Arizona Wildcats for “softball reasons.”
“I loved my three years at Mizzou. I wouldn’t have changed it for the world,” Pierce said. “So, the change for me was really difficult, because I was established in a program. I had grown a lot in my three years at Mizzou.”
Pierce will put that growth to use for Arizona both in the field and the batter’s box. When the media arrived to Monday’s practice, she was catching a bullpen session. She also played some third base at Missouri, but her primary position is first base. With Alyssa Palomino moving back to the outfield, it will give Arizona another experienced infielder to lean on.
Pierce isn’t worried about where she plays, though.
“Initially, when I transferred, that wasn’t really a big concern,” she said. “I just loved the program and what they stood for here. I love Coach (Mike) Candrea and his philosophy on his program and his team. As the fall has progressed, (Palomino) has played more in the outfield, but it really wasn’t a big concern of mine.”
Development on the field isn’t the only thing Pierce is looking for as she plays her senior season at Arizona.
“Rylee was a kid who wants to get into coaching,” Candrea said. “They kind of reached out to me, and this was a place that she wanted to be. So, I have been just totally thrilled with Rylee Pierce. She’s a very high-character kid. Great work ethic. Has kind of fit into this team seamlessly, and she’s a good player.”
Despite making the decision to leave, Pierce says she is still close with folks back in Missouri.
“It was really tough to say goodbye to all the people and the donors and the fans and just the whole community I did know back in Columbia, and to recreate something here,” she said. “Ultimately, what made me feel like this was the right thing for me is because I didn’t have to say goodbye to all the people I met there. It was more like, ‘I’ll see you soon.’”
A coaching change can be difficult for any player to deal with, but it’s especially significant in softball. Until recent rule changes limited recruiting until junior year of high school, players often committed to colleges before they entered high school or shortly after.
For instance, Arizona freshman Marissa Schuld told the media Monday she committed when she was in eighth grade. So losing a coach can mean parting ways with someone the player has known for a decade.
And this is the second straight year Arizona has welcomed transfers whose head coach was suddenly ousted. Last season, Aleah Craighton and Alyssa Denham followed the same path from Louisiana-Lafayette to Arizona.
“I had an awesome career at Mizzou,” Pierce said. “I’m just excited to be part of the program.”