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Taking a look at the future of Arizona softball

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What to expect over the next few years

Photo via @AZAthletics on Twitter

Arizona softball just ended their most successful run in almost a decade. Right after the Women’s College World Series ended, we addressed some of the questions facing the team into the offseason, but we already know a bit about the more distant future too.

Will that future include another WCWS drought? If things work out as expected, it’s very unlikely.

The pitching question: 2020

Arizona has already signed its 2019 class, which includes three players who are listed in the top 100 by three different publications—Extra Inning Softball, Flo Softball and Softball America.

All three consider centerfielder Isabella “Bella” Dayton to be the top signee, with her best ranking at No. 19 by Softball America. Dayton was originally committed to Ole Miss, but eventually gave her signature to Arizona. With speed being her biggest asset, it will be interesting to see if Arizona can get back to being a team that steals bases.

Last season, the entire team attempted just 20 stolen bases, with 14 of those attempts being successful. Jenna Kean was the only baserunner to put regular pressure on the defense, with seven stolen bases in eight attempts. However, Kean didn’t play much down the stretch. Will Arizona continue to focus on the long ball as its primary offensive tool, or will there be changes over the next few years that bring the running game back into the repertoire?

The biggest concern for Arizona is that there is no pitcher in this class. While Arizona had a large staff last year, two of them are now gone. Taylor McQuillin was the biggest loss.

The Wildcats could go into the season with senior-to-be Alyssa Denham and rising sophomore Marissa Schuld battling for ace-level innings. Is either one ready to take over that role, though?

Denham often struggled with walks this season that were compounded by the big hit that often followed. This was the biggest concern expressed by coach Mike Candrea throughtout the 2018-19 season. She definitely has the chance to improve on that with another offseason working with Taryne Mowatt.

Schuld came in as a highly-touted pitcher and hitter who had a lot of success in high school. She had a very good ERA in her freshman campaign (0.48), but she also pitched very few innings (14) and threw primarily against Arizona’s weakest opponents. It’s difficult to know how it will translate with more innings against stronger competition.

The other option in the circle is a transfer. That would allow Denham to continue as the No. 2 pitcher on the staff. Schuld would have one more year to develop, giving her more innings than last year but not putting the full weight of leading a staff on her young shoulders.

Rumor in the stands at the WCWS was that Oklahoma’s Mariah Lopez would enter the transfer portal as soon as the season was over. That has now come to pass. The source of that early information in Oklahoma City also said that Arizona would be a contender for her senior season. We will have to wait and see if that also comes to pass.

If Lopez opts to finish up her career elsewhere, there are other pitchers in the transfer portal that Arizona may take a look at. Brooke Yanez is just one of those. Of course, they could always choose to stand pat and hope that a combination of Denham and Schuld will be enough.

With Arizona’s strong senior class, the team stands a good chance of returning to the WCWS next season. However, the strongest aspect of that class lies in its offensive prowess. Will they have the pitching to exceed this year’s results if they stand pat? That’s the most interesting storyline.

When the senior class graduates: 2021

The junior class this past season was the core of the team. Offense, defense, pitching—you could find a junior pulling a significant amount of weight wherever you looked.

Next year, they get their last hurrah as a group, although Dejah Mulipola may return one more year if she has to redshirt for the 2020 Olympics. What comes next?

A spectacular class is what, assuming that all of them actually sign their national letters of intent later this year or next spring.

Of the seven known verbal commitments to Arizona for the 2020-21 season, five are ranked in Extra Inning Softball’s Extra Elite 100 and four are ranked in Softball America’s top 50. Two more were Gatorade Players of the Year for their respective states this past season, although they don’t make either publication’s list.

Jasmine Perezchica is the daughter of the Arizona Diamondbacks’ third base coach. Last year, she tore her hamstring in travel ball, but she’s been rehabbing with the medical staff of her dad’s Major League employer.

The centerfielder from Palm Desert (CA) High School and OC Batbusters is also ranked No. 12 in the class by Extra Inning Softball and No. 11 by Softball America, the highest of any Arizona commit. With Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza finishing up her college career next season, Perezchica has an opening upon arrival.

Just behind Perezchica on the Extra Inning Softball’s Extra Elite 100 is another Wildcat commit, Sophia Carroll from Suprise, Arizona’s Shadow Ridge High School and the Firecrackers - AZ travel team. The middle-infielder is tied for No. 13 on the publication’s list and comes in at No. 29 for Softball America.

Even better? Sophia brings along the player Extra Inning Softball has at No. 98. Her sister, Aris “AJ” Carroll, is set to join her in Tucson. AJ plays third base, which will be a position of need after Malia Martinez graduates.

The third Arizona commit ranked in the top 25 will address need at the most important position on the field. Pitcher Jesse Fontes is ranked No. 17 by Extra Inning Softball and No. 25 by Softball America. That places her as the No. 7 pitcher for Extra Inning Softball and No. 8 for Softball America.

The Simi Valley, California product who plays for Grace Brethren and SoCal Choppers has been committed to Arizona since just before her freshman year in high school. That’s something that is no longer possible under the new recruiting rules.

The final top 50 player expected in Tucson for the 2020-21 school year will present a challenge to both opponents and announcers. Mission Viejo, California star Giulia “G” Koutsoyanopulos plays first base and outfield for Capistrano Valley High School and the OC Batbusters. Both Extra Inning Softball and Softball America agree that Koutsoyanopoulos is one of the top 35 players in the country, with the former ranking her at No. 32 and the latter at No. 35.

Despite not being ranked above fellow Arizonans like the Carroll sisters, the Gatorade 2018-19 Arizona Softball Player of the Year already resides in Tucson. Tucson High Magnet School’s Carlie Scupin joins her future teammate, Schuld, who won the same award last season.

Scupin put up a .683 batting average and 1.73 slugging percentage while becoming the first Badger to ever win the state award. She primarily plays first base, although she pitched a limited number of innings in relief.

Allie Skaggs, the Gatorade 2018-19 Kentucky Softball Player of the Year, will also be an Arizona Wildcat. The shortstop won’t be able to follow up on her state award next season, though. Instead, she will face off against Scupin in the Tucson area.

Skaggs and her family relocated to the Tucson metro area for her senior season after playing the last few years for Ballard High School in Louisville, Kentucky. She will play for Ironwood Ridge on the northwest side of Tucson for her final year of high school.

The rules change: 2022

While the class of 2020-21 have been in steady contact with college coaches for years, rule changes mean that things are different for those who follow them. Arizona already has commitments for 2021-22, but they all committed before last year’s changes in the recruiting rules. Those who are still not committed won’t be able to do so until September 1, 2019—and there are quite a few uncommitted players among the Extra Inning Softball Extra Elite 100.

Will things change for Arizona after September? It’s difficult to tell. So far, the only player who has given any indication that she might be moving on from Arizona is Taryn Young, who has not seen the field much in her two years with the Wildcats.

It’s also unclear how the program’s 12 scholarships are spread out among the existing players; as an equivalency sport, softball coaches can award partial scholarships. Arizona has six sophomores, including Young, but how many will be freeing up scholarships for the 2021-22 school year is unknown.

At this point, the Wildcats have two known verbal commitments for 2021-22. One of them is especially interesting for her familial connections.

Arizona’s top recruit in the class is pitcher Madi Elish. Although she plays high school ball for Crown Point High School in Crown Point, Indiana, her travel team is the ever-present OC Batbusters team coached by Mike Stith in Southern California.

Extra Inning Softball has Elish tied for No. 13 in their rankings for the 2021 class, making her their No. 5 pitcher. Softball America, on the other hand, doesn’t rank her in their top 25. More extensive rankings by the various publications will come out as the year progresses.

Her name may be most familiar to softball fans because of her older sister’s career. Miranda Elish began her storied career at Oregon, where she earned All-American honors. After the well-publicized break between Oregon and coach Mike White, the elder Elish followed him to Texas, where she once again had an award-winning season. Arizona fans certainly hope that the younger Elish develops as her sister did.

The other member of the class is an OF/1B for Rancho Buena Vista (Vista, California) High School and the So Cal Breakers travel team. Paige Dimler is currently ranked No. 66 by Extra Inning Softball. The rising junior is unranked by Softball America, which only has a top 25 for her class at this point.

The Wildcats will ride their senior class next season. With blessings from softball’s injury gods and reliable pitching, they have a good shot of getting back to Oklahoma City. Looking ahead over the next few years, Arizona fans have reasons for optimism that a new streak could be in the making—and this one will be positive.