Gathered in a suite at Hillenbrand Stadium to watch the selection show, Arizona players swiftly turned their heads toward Taryne Mowatt when the Ole Miss Rebels were pegged as the 11-seed.
They knew that if all went according to plan—and it did—the Rebels would be facing the sixth-seeded Wildcats in Super Regionals and Mowatt would be thrust into an awkward spot.
“Honestly, I was just excited to see where we were going to be seeded for regionals and if we were hosting both rounds,” Mowatt said. “And then when I saw we were paired with Ole Miss, I’m not surprised. I think it’s a good storyline.”
Yes it is.
Mowatt was the pitching coach at Ole Miss for three seasons (2015-2017) before she left for the same position at Arizona, her alma mater, in October of 2017.
Only two years removed from Oxford, Mowatt coached and recruited several of Ole Miss’s current players. While she has not stayed in touch with them—she doesn’t want to overstep her boundaries—she still has plenty of friends in Mississippi.
Except for this week, when the Rebels and Wildcats will battle for a spot in the Women’s College World Series.
“I think they know what kind of competitor I am,” Mowatt said. “And I have to remove myself from the personal relationships to get ready to face them as I would face any other opponent.”
Still, Mowatt will always be fond of Ole Miss. After all, it was where she got her first Division I coaching job. Previously, the Orange County native had only been an assistant at Cal Baptist.
“Ole Miss took a risk in hiring me,” Mowatt said. “I hadn’t been at that level. I’d only coached at the DII level. But it helped me grow as a coach. It helped me experience a new part of the country, which was really cool. I had never really been in the south and never really had gone to Mississippi. So that was fun for me and my growth throughout my life. And ultimately, it helped get me to where I am now.”
The 2017 season, Mowatt’s final year with the Rebels, was historic. Ole Miss, the furthest thing from a softball school, improbably won the SEC Tournament, earned a national seed, and advanced to Super Regionals for the first time in program history.
“It was a lot of fun,” Mowatt recalled. “A lot of passion on that team. And we really were the underdogs to everybody. And I think we surprised a lot of people that year. And it was a really fun ride and it was really fun to watch the girls experience that and watch them kind of take the City of Oxford, that hadn’t really paid attention to the softball program there, and then in a matter of two, three weeks, everybody in Oxford was on board. It was a magical run.”
Mowatt had a big hand in it. When she took over as pitching coach, she inherited a staff that posted a 4.30 ERA in 2015. That mark improved to 3.26 in 2016 and all the way to 2.10 by 2017.
Arizona head coach Mike Candrea, who tries to keep an eye on all his former players, was impressed.
“She took some no-names and made them very competitive,” he said.
It was that, not the pair of national championships Mowatt won as a pitcher at Arizona, that led to her return.
“My biggest thought process was just to make sure we’re getting the right fit,” Candrea said. “Even though someone was a great pitcher for us, sometimes it doesn’t directly correlate to them being a good teacher and a good coach.
“And I think she’s blessed with a lot of things. She’s got a good approach with young kids. They relate to her quite well. She’s got a really good demeanor. But I think the biggest thing that’s overlooked from Taryne is her ability to call a game because she’s got such a damn good memory. And when you’re calling pitches that’s a good gift to have.”
Mowatt said leaving Oxford was difficult.
“Especially the timing of it,” she said. “I left in the middle of the fall season. The tough part was leaving the pitching staff that I had. At the time there were six of them and three of them were seniors that year. And there were tears and goodbyes, and I still keep in touch with them. But I think they all understood the job that I was coming to, and that it had been my dream to be at Arizona.”
Ole Miss senior Brittany Finney was especially understanding.
“She actually was born in Tucson,” Mowatt said. “So she was a fan growing up and she knew out of everybody how important it was for me and she was really excited for me.”
As fate will have it, Finney will be toeing the rubber against the Wildcats in Tucson this weekend. She is Ole Miss’s No. 2 pitcher.
Mowatt only sees her familiarity with Finney and the Rebels as an advantage for her new employer.
“I coached some of them, obviously. Not (ace) Molly Jacobsen, but I coached Finney and the other younger ones, and I recruited their freshman pitcher (Savannah Diederich), so I got to work with them, I kind of know what pitches they throw, I know what their strengths are, I know what some of their weaknesses are,” she said. “Granted, that could have changed in the last year, but I feel very comfortable going into the series knowing what I know.”