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Former Arizona softball star Mo Mercado enjoying life as graduate assistant

Photo by Ryan Kelapire

Mo Mercado is one of the most decorated players in Arizona softball history.

The former All-American shortstop started in all 243 games from 2014-2017, while posting a slash line of .361/.408/.568 and being named first-team all-Pac-12 and all-defense as a junior and senior, possessing an all-around game devoid of any weaknesses.

While Mercado played her final game at Arizona on May 28, 2017 when the Wildcats lost a heartbreaker to Baylor in Game 3 of Super Regionals, she still is an instrumental part of the program.

Mercado spent the 2018 season as an undergraduate assistant, and now is in her first of two seasons as a graduate assistant, as she pursues a degree in educational leadership.

“She’s outstanding,” said Arizona coach Mike Candrea. “Another set of eyes, another person to talk to, someone that’s been there that’s played the game. She does a lot for us and she’s going to be a great coach. She understands the game, she’s good at the technical side, but I love her demeanor. She’s very happy-go-lucky and she’s kind of a sounding board for the girls. A lot of them will go to her and ask questions, and I think it’s good to have someone like that.”

Mercado serves as Arizona’s first-base coach on gamedays, but also does a variety of other things in her role as a graduate assistant.

I talked to her about that and some other things. Here is how that conversation went. It has been lightly edited for clarity.

Coach said you serve as a sounding board for the players, so what kind of things do you help them with?

“I would say a little bit of everything. For some people, I approach them and talk about stuff that I personally struggled with or things that I went through. And then other young athletes come to me with certain things, but it’s cool that they trust me enough and respond to me enough come to me and ask. So it’s fun.”

What do you do on a day-to-day basis as a graduate manager?

“I’m at practice every day and I work more with the infielders. Some days Coach (Candrea) has me hit ground balls. Other days, I kind of just float around and just work with people. Like if I see stuff or give tips or just talk the game. And then I’m over (coaching) at first base, so I do a little bit with baserunning, and then during hitting I’m in the cages with the hitters. So I feel like I kind of do a little bit of everything, but I like it that way. I wouldn’t want to just be doing little things.”

Coach Candrea said you’ll be a good coach one day, so is the purpose of being a graduate assistant because you are trying to get to that point?

“Yeah, for sure. So basically I wanted to stick around and learn from the best, which is our school and our coaches. So the fact that I got one year as an undergrad, and now I get two years as a grad (assistant) puts me in a great place to learn things from the other side. For me it’s cool because I get to work with the class that came in as freshmen (when I was a senior) and I get to see them graduate, so it gives me a good database.”

You were teammates with some of these players, so how do you balance being their friend with being an authority figure?

“I think it’s all about your relationship. When I was a senior and they were freshmen, I had a very different relationship with each of them. And I put a lot of effort into getting to know the players outside of softball and building that base. So now that I’m in this position, I think it’s all about how we handle each other. So I’ve never come off like, ‘hey, do what I say.’ For me, it helps knowing the players as they were when I was a teammate, and now watching them from a different lens it’s cool to contribute what I can from I guess you could say a coaching perspective. But I like to think of it more as a mentor. Like, ‘hey, I’ve been there. I’ve done that. And like we’ve been there, we’ve done that, and now let me help you now that I see things differently.”’

Are you really close with Jessie Harper? I know when you were a senior she used to take grounders with you at short.

“Yeah, I mean, we talk the game all the time. So whether it’s at practice and it’s ‘Hey, watch me do this.’ Or ‘hey, film me so I can watch this.’ We’re always talking the game and obviously working together that first year was pretty cool, but now seeing her take control is even cooler.”

How tough is it to be here and not be able to play?

“I would say it was a lot tougher last year, especially. My class, they all thought it was hard (to leave). But being here is almost harder because you see the shifts in things and you want to put the jersey on. The routine is still here, but you’re not actually the player. But at the same time, it’s cool. Like I said, seeing the freshmen last year, how they played as sophomores and now they’re the junior class. I have way more fun with it this year just watching them.”

Your motto is Be More. What exactly does that mean?

“Whatever your standard is, or whatever the team standard is, or whatever you’re asked to do, do more. Because everybody can be average. Everybody can do just the baseline. So if you have the mentality of Be More, do more. I just feel like it pushes you more as an athlete, physically and mentally.”

What is your impression of the current Arizona team? What do you think its ceiling is?

“Man, this team has been really fun to watch this year. Last year you could tell was not a transition year, but we just had a young team. This year seeing them as juniors and seniors and even the sophomores, freshmen, we just have a tough team overall. We have a lot of people that can step in and just get things done. And I feel like that’s really tough to have these days — a whole bench that can step in and play. So I think we have a good shot this year to go far.”

What are your thoughts on the new Hillenbrand Stadium?

“It’s amazing. Being able to see it (built) from the ground up and how they let us practice here during the construction was the best part. Because now when we walk in and we see this, we saw the sweat and tears and work that went into it. We saw the guys out here every day busting their butts, so it’s cool. And we got to train with all the noise, so now when we play in facilities on the road or facilities that are just loud, I feel like we’re more prepared for that.”

Is there one part of the new stadium you wish you could have had as a player?

“Not really because in my era (the old stadium) is what I expected it and that’s what we had. For me the big change was Lapan Center and breaking that in. So do I think it would have been cool to play in this atmosphere? Absolutely. But it’s cool that I still get to be here and be a part of it.”

Where are you right now in terms of your pro playing career?

“My rookie year I was in (National Pro Fastpitch) with the USSSA Pride and then last year I played with the Scrap Yard Dawgs, which is pretty much their own league. I’m with them as of now.”

And then what about Team USA? Is that something you’re still working for?

“Nope. Well, this past team I didn’t make. Just Dejah (Mulipola) made it, so for me it’s going to be cool because I told her I’m going to get a jersey of hers and support her hardcore this summer.”

Do you still think about how your Arizona career ended in Game 3 of Supers against Baylor?

“I think no matter how your career ends, whether it’s a national championship or how mine ended, you’re always going to think about it. But it’s motivation. It’s motivation to maybe get there as a coach one day, so yes. And I mean, it’s good sometimes, bad sometimes. But I think no matter what, you reflect on your last game.”