Former head coach Mike Candrea had been around for so long that it was natural to wonder what things would look like without him. Of special interest was what recruiting would look like after he stepped down. The answer came early in September when Ryan Maddox, one of the top pitchers in the 2023 class, became the first commitment of the Caitlin Lowe era.
“It’s awesome that, finally, all my hard work has paid off and I’m super excited about it,” Ryan said.
The elephant in the room has to be acknowledged, though. Ryan has given her word to someone who has yet to be a head coach in a single college softball game. That’s not something that concerned the junior from Fresno, Calif.
“I know she’s assisted him for quite a while,” Ryan said. “And I know that she’s been a great player and a great coach and I’ve heard nothing bad about her. So I think it’s pretty cool that I’m the first one.”
Ryan has been preparing for this moment for a long time. At the age of seven, she started training with former UCLA Bruin pitcher Courtney Dale. Within a few years, she and her family felt that the game—especially pitching—could be her thing. Both Ryan and her mother point to her coolness in the circle as central to her success. It might be even more important since she is not a power pitcher.
“I’m pretty calm on the mound,” Ryan said. “I don’t get frustrated as easily. If things aren’t going my way or the defense is making errors, I pick them up. I don’t throw as hard but I really think I’m pretty good at hitting locations and at spinning the ball.”
That calm demeanor was obvious to her parents when she was very young.
“I believe it was second year of 10U we knew she had a special talent,” said Ryan’s mother Amanda Maddox. “She had great composure at an early age and the right mindset and determination. Bases could be loaded and she would not have a care in the world. She would strike out the side and not celebrate, almost like it’s routine...She is just wired differently. She is a competitor and thrives in big-game moments.”
Ryan certainly had the right teacher if she wanted to pitch in big games. Dale pitched the Bruins to the 1999 national title and hit the game-winning home run to claim the crown. She was the 1999 Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year at the peak of Pac-10 dominance of college softball. All eight teams that sponsored the sport made that year’s postseason and five of the eight got to the Women’s College World Series. The title came down to UCLA and Washington.
Dale is both Ryan’s private pitching coach and her high school coach at Clovis North in Fresno. Ryan’s parents decided she should try pitching at a young age because she was left-handed. That fortuitous accident of nature started the relationship that culminated in the 2021 CIF Central Section title for Clovis North and the Fresno Bee's 2021 Softball Player of the Year honor for Ryan. She hopes to take it further over the next two years.
“I want to keep winning for my high school team,” Ryan said.
With Dale having developed the young pitcher, it only seems right that players who also experienced the glory of Pac-10 and national titles will take over once Ryan steps onto the college playing field.
Pitching coach duties will be turned over to Taryne Mowatt-McKinney, another player who pitched her team to Pac-10 and national titles. At just 5-foot-3, Ryan thinks learning from Mowatt-McKinney will help her in college. Listed at 5-foot-6, Mowatt-McKinney was considered small for a college pitcher, especially one who took the circle for the Arizona Wildcats. Yet, she pitched Arizona to its last two championships in 2006 and 2007.
“She knows size doesn’t matter for being a pitcher,” Ryan said. “She did it in the circle. She’s witnessed other people that aren’t as tall in the circle. And she believes that I can do it, so that’s all that matters.”
To get to the point where someone like Mowatt-McKinney believes in her has taken a lot of work and sacrifice. After beginning her travel ball career in her hometown, breaking through with the Central Cal Dirtdogs, Ryan is now playing for the OC Batbusters team coached by Mike Stith.
Another legendary coach, Stith began winning national titles at the club level in 1997. His teams have won in ASA, PGF, and USSSA national tournaments for decades while placing players on the rosters of numerous WCWS championship teams including Arizona.
It’s not uncommon for players to come from hundreds of miles away to play for the Batbusters. Current Wildcat freshman Madi Elish played high school ball in her hometown in Indiana, but she played travel ball for Stith and the OC Batbusters. Like those players before her, moving to the Batbusters program was something Ryan felt she needed to do to reach her full potential.
“It was a tough decision, but I wanted to play with like-minded people," she said. "People who wanted to win all the time. Players who...have the same goals to play in college and at the next level.”
It also meant sacrifice for the family. Ryan is the second-oldest of four sisters, all of whom have been involved in competitive activities.
“It definitely has been challenging this year,” Amanda said. “Ryan travels four hours to So Cal every weekend to play for Mike Stith OC Batbusters. She has been doing that since she was a freshman. She has been very blessed to have played with some of the best players in the country.”
Back at home, Ryan’s 15-year-old sister Kamryn is a competitive dancer and her 11-year-old sister Kody plays club volleyball and basketball. Her oldest sister Riley, who is 25, is a special education teacher finishing her master’s degree, but she was also involved in competitive dance. It keeps Ryan’s parents, grandparents, and, now, her older sister busy.
“One of us takes her to practice while the other manages the other two kids' activities back at home,” Amanda said. “I already have been to Texas with [Kamryn] this fall and she will head to So Cal to compete in November as well as training in Seattle, Wash. Ryan will be playing in Arizona, So Cal, and Florida this fall...We are all over.”
The sacrifices are more than worth it to Ryan. On weekends, she is either driving to practice or taking part in tournaments far from home.
“Some things are missed,” she said. “I mean, people always say you’re missing a birthday party, you’re not hanging out with someone. It doesn’t matter to me. I want to get better, help my team win.”
Outside of softball, it’s family and close friends who matter the most to Ryan. She’s especially fond of her niece.
“I like hanging out with her a lot,” Ryan said.
There are two more years for Ryan to enjoy playing high school ball and watching her niece grow. Then, it’s off to Tucson where she hopes to make her mark in the circle on the softball field and in pre-med in the classroom. Her studies are one reason she thinks it’s a good idea that she committed under the new rules that require players to be in their junior year of high school before they have contact with college coaches. She believes she was too young to make that kind of decision about her life before this point, but now she’s ready to go.
“I’m super excited to be out there,” Ryan said.
- Arizona’s annual Fall Ball tournament begins on Friday, Oct. 29 at 4 p.m. MST. The full schedule is available on the Arizona website. Although Arizona Athletics initially announced that Fall Ball would be closed to fans this season, that decision was reversed. Fans will be welcomed free of charge, but concessions will not be available.
- Former Arizona star and U.S. National Team member Lovieanne Jung was inducted into the National Softball Hall of Fame on Oct. 23. Jung was a standout shortstop for the Wildcats from 2000-2003 and went on to win two Olympic medals. She now works as a firefighter in Riverside, Calif.