The last time we talked to Taryne Mowatt she had just arrived in Tucson to interview, and accept, her dream job as Arizona softball’s pitching coach after holding the same position at Ole Miss for two seasons.
It represented a homecoming for Mowatt, who is one of the most decorated pitchers in Arizona history.
Behind her arm, the Wildcats won back to back national championships in 2006 and 2007. Mowatt earned MVP honors in 2007 after setting Women’s College World Series records in innings pitched (60), strikeouts (76) and complete games (8). She won a pair of ESPYs for that dominant stretch.
When all was said and done, Mowatt finished second in UA history in strikeouts (1,267) and innings pitched (877.2). Her 42 victories, 522 strikeouts and 370.0 innings pitched in 2007 remain Pac-12 records.
“It’s just good to be back,” she said in October 2017.
Mowatt is now entering her second season as UA’s pitching coach, so I caught up with her Tuesday before practice to see how things are going so far and her thoughts on the 2019 season.
Here’s how that conversation went.
So what has it been like coaching under your old head coach and at your old school?
“It’s been great. I mean, I’m about a year and a half in now, a lot more comfortable this year than I was last year. But it’s been a lot of fun.”
In what ways are you more comfortable?
“Just kind of being more of a coworker. It’s more of a collaboration rather than (Coach Mike Candrea) being my coach, telling me what to do on the field and that kind of stuff.”
What exactly does a pitching coach do?
“What I do is I come out here for bullpens and I work with the pitchers on mechanics and how to pitch to certain hitters and in certain counts, things like that. And then during the game I call the pitches and I work with the pitcher and the catcher in between innings to find out things like what do you see from the hitters out there? Is there anything that you want to throw more or less of? Just working with them to give us the best possible chance to win.”
Is this something you ever saw yourself doing?
“Definitely not. This was not something that I thought I would be doing when I was in college. But as I got older and I started working with pitchers and kind of understanding a little bit more of how to relay the knowledge that I had, I really enjoyed it. Especially when it clicked with a pitcher and you can kind of see that lightbulb moment of that’s what we’ve been working on and now she’s got it.”
So that’s the rewarding part?
What do you like about the staff this year? What does it have to do to get to that next level?
“I’m really excited about this staff. We have six quality pitchers that all have a different looks to them. So being able to match them up and pair them with certain teams, it makes it really fun to see, okay, this pitcher pairs well against this team or these two pitchers would be good in relief of so and so. Being able to have all of those options, and they’re all quality pitchers, I think they’re all going to give us some good innings this year.”
What difference have you seen in Taylor McQuillin this year?
“Taylor has really matured from this year to last year, and she’s kind of taken control of the pitching staff and helping the young ones out and teaching them how to pitch at this level and be successful against the college hitters, especially when you get into a three-game series and you’re facing the same hitters over and over. And she’s really been able to be on the field and mature, and kind of help everybody else out around her. And last year, I don’t think she communicated a lot on the field when things got tough or when the team backed down and this year, I think she’s really matured and grown and has taken control.”
Will that help her when she, or the team, has a tough inning and they need to battle through it?
When they say the difference between a good pitcher and a great pitcher is confidence, what exactly does that mean?
“Having confidence out there is everything. I mean, anytime you can go out there with confidence and throw your pitches without hesitation, that’s when you’re successful. And when you start losing confidence, that’s when you start doubting and throwing your pitches with some hesitation and you don’t have the same movement that you normally would. So it’s being out there with a confident mindset and knowing whatever pitch you throw you can get these hitters out, and if they do happen to get a hit, you can get the next one out and stop the momentum from the other team.”
What is the biggest challenge of being an ace?
“The biggest challenge being the ace is that everybody is preparing for you. You don’t get overlooked. You don’t fly under the radar. Everybody is preparing for you. They know what you pitch, they know your habits and they know what your go-to pitch is, so that was probably the biggest challenge and then facing the same hitters multiple times.”
As someone who was one of the best pitchers to ever play here, what kind of advice do you give someone like Taylor, who is trying to follow in your footsteps?
“I think the biggest thing for Taylor and all of our other pitchers is not to get worked up about following footsteps. They don’t have to be the pitchers before them. They have to be themselves. Taylor has to be Taylor and she’s going to be successful being Taylor, and she’s going to make a name for herself as long as she doesn’t try to be a different pitcher.”
What have you seen from (No. 2 starter) Alyssa Denham this year? She said she’s throwing a bit harder.
“She’s definitely throwing a couple miles an hour faster than last year. She hangs out around 64, 65, but with her, her movement is much better this year. And her placement of her pitches are much better. She’s not missing over the plate as much as last year.”
Pitch speed is obviously important, but so is movement. How do you find the balance between those two?
“Every pitcher is a little bit different. And it’s finding that speed that you can pitch at and still have the movement. So with Alyssa, it was working with her to see at what speed does her drop ball have the biggest break. And yes, you could probably throw harder but then it’s flattening out. So we have to find that balance between the two. But anytime you can have velocity and movement and then have an off speed of some sort, those are usually your All-Americans.”
Coach Candrea said Marissa Schuld reminds him of you. What do you like about her game?
“Marissa finds a way to get the job done. She goes out there with the mindset that she’s going to beat everybody and she’s going to find a way to do that even on days that she doesn’t necessarily have her best stuff.”
How would you characterize her as a pitcher?
“She is more of a power pitcher. So we’re working with her to have that velocity but working on the movement and the placement because she’s not gonna blow it by everybody at this level. And so being able to place her pitches and relax a little bit more, so she can use her smaller muscles to make the ball spin. She’s already made big strides.”
And what about Hanah Bowen?
“They’re pretty similar actually, the two of them. They’re that small stature, but they throw hard, they’re very similar in the pitches that they throw and I see Marissa kind of following in the footsteps of Hanah because last year Hanah was very similar to how Marissa is right now. So if we can continue that development, I see them both having the velocity but also the movement (to be successful).”
What do you think about the new Hillenbrand Stadium?
“It’s gorgeous. I love the new stadium. I love that we were able to watch it being built as we were practicing, because of all the players that have played here before and what Coach has been able to build for the sport of softball, knowing where it started out and what it’s become. I think a lot of the alumni are going to come back and see it and their jaw is going to drop because it’s gorgeous.”
How is this program as a whole different than when you played here?
“We’ve got a lot more people on the roster. When I played I think we had like 15 or 16 players but that’s really how the game has evolved. But I think overall Coach’s rules or his style of play is consistent from when I played here.”
When you are out recruiting, what kind of reception do you get being from Arizona? How is this program viewed?
“I think people still understand the tradition and what our school has been able to do in the past couple decades. And I think that as long as we keep working hard on the field, and with the new stadium, a lot of people are still interested. I think the stadium is going to help with recruiting because now you get these young players being recruited and they see this nice stadium and that’ll be huge for us.”
Last question. Where do you house your two ESPYs?
“Right now they are in my office as bookends. They used to be in my house on a shelf somewhere. If you ask Caitlin (Lowe), she’ll probably tell you they’ve been on the floor of my car (laughs). But right now they’re acting as bookends in my office.”