Arizona softball has a new team motto heading into the 2019 season. It is plastered on the back of the red jerseys they don in practice every Monday.
We Over Me.
“It‘s not about me or what I do. It’s not about what somebody else says. It’s about what we do as a whole and what we do as a group and as a family,” explained junior outfielder Alyssa Palomino.
Though no one can pinpoint the exact origin, the mantra was formulated sometime after the Wildcats went through a couple grueling, but eye-opening, days of Navy Seal training in the fall.
“It’s perfect because it shows that you can’t do everything by yourself,” said senior ace Taylor McQuillin. “All 23 people are going to make an impact on this team and are going to take this team where we need to go.”
Indeed, because Arizona’s strength this season resides in its depth. For the first time in a long time, coach Mike Candrea said, the Wildcats have several players capable of giving them quality innings in big games.
“We can go two or three deep,” said Candrea, who is entering his 34th season at the UA. “One thing that I like about the addition of the depth that we have is, as a coach, when someone’s struggling, you don’t have to let them struggle. You can put a new look out there and refresh the whole group. Because at the end of the day, it’s all about this team and the best nine on that given day that’s going to help us be successful.”
Having an abundance of depth has made for some interesting intrasquad games that oftentimes make it difficult for Candrea to truly gauge how good his team is.
But preseason polls peg Arizona as the No. 6 team in the country for a reason, so the Wildcats appear to have a roster teeming with quantity and quality.
“I’m very pleased with all of them to this point, and it’s tough to scrimmage as much as we do because you walk out and you go, ‘God, our pitching was great and our hitters are not great.’ Or ‘our hitters are great and our pitching is not great,’” Candrea said. “It’s a double-edged sword, but I think they’ve been very competitive throughout these scrimmages.”
That should only help the Wildcats be ready for a difficult schedule that calls for them to play elite teams like Michigan, Florida, Alabama, defending national champion Florida State and, of course, the ultra-competitive Pac-12.
“We tell ourselves that if we can compete against our team this many times, then we can compete against anybody that’s on the field against us,” McQuillin said.
McQuillin will lead a pitching staff that includes six arms, each offering their own skill set.
In addition to McQuillin and Alyssa Denham, who were a formidable 1-2 punch last season and mostly responsible for a 1.94 team ERA that ranked 18th in the country, there is hard-throwing senior Gina Snyder who recently hit 70 MPH on the gun, two decorated freshmen in Marissa Schuld and Vanessa Foreman, and right-handed sophomore Hanah Bowen, who made six starts last year and, by the way, plays some second base too.
“They have different movements, different spins, different speeds and they all have a different effectiveness about them,” McQuillin said. “But confidence is going to be key for our pitching staff.”
Having more arms should take some heat off McQuillin, who compiled a 1.68 ERA in a career-high 242 innings last season.
“In today’s world, just about every team we face can go one through nine with good hitters, so the days of throwing someone out there for eight, nine, 10 innings just isn’t there anymore,” Candrea said. “You can bring in a different look and we’ll be able to keep people off balance.”
As for Arizona’s offense, Candrea sees a solid lineup “top to bottom” that boasts plenty of power — UA led the Pac-12 in home runs last season — and some speed.
“But more importantly I think the big thing with this group is just their maturity,” he said.
Arizona returns a host of junior starters in center fielder Alyssa Palomino, shortstop Jessie Harper, second baseman Reyna Carranco, catcher Dejah Mulipola, and third baseman Malia Martinez. It also added senior All-SEC first baseman Rylee Pierce, a transfer from Missouri.
The corner outfield is not quite as experienced, but sophomore slappers Carli Campbell (left field) and Jenna Kean (right field) still made a combined 86 starts last season. Ivy Davis, a power-hitting sophomore who made 21 starts as a designated player last season, is capable of playing out there too, as well as in the infield.
Plus, Candrea could always insert seniors Hillary Edior (outfield/catcher), Joelle Krist (first base) or Tamara Statman (designated player) into the lineup if youth is ever an issue.
If he wants more youth, he has a bevy of freshman outfielders to pick from, including Schuld, a two-time Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year. The Scottsdale native is best known for her pitching, but has been getting reps in left field so the Wildcats can fit her bat in the lineup when she is not in the circle.
“We have a lot of versatile players that play multiple positions, which I think really helps,” Candrea said. “Our outfield, we have some kids that maybe are a little better defensively than they are offensively. We have some people that I think will be stable in the outfield. With Palomino coming back and being healthy, I think that will help us in a lot of areas like communication and leadership.
“And I think our infield is very mature right now. But we have some young kids that have grown up and have really earned the stripes to get some quality at-bats and some innings, so I think it’s gonna be fun. It’s gonna be one of those years where I think you’ll see a lot of different kids in the lineup because they all deserve to be in the lineup at this point.”
But not everyone can be in the lineup, a reality that could fracture a team that, by all accounts, has bubbling chemistry.
“In the fall, everyone feels pretty good about themselves because they’re all playing, they’re all getting time,” Candrea said. “When we have to put nine people out there, then the dynamics change a little bit. So hopefully we’ve done a good job of getting kids to understand their role and what they bring to the table.”
Which is why We Over Me is more than a cute slogan. It’s the key to Arizona’s season.
“As long as they continue to do it when times get tough and they can stay together and keep playing the game, I think we have what it takes to have a special year,” Candrea said.