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What’s next for Arizona softball and new head coach Caitlin Lowe?

arizona-wildcats-softball-in-state-chandler-hamilton-kate-vance-2024-commit Photo by Mike Christy/Arizona Athletics

Caitlin Lowe was officially introduced as Arizona softball’s new head coach on Wednesday but she doesn’t have much time to soak it in.

“We start recruiting tomorrow,” she said.

Lowe said the 2021 and 2022 recruiting classes are already finalized, so her staff will be primarily targeting 2023 prospects.

In the meantime, here’s a look at some of the questions facing Lowe and the program as she takes on the tall task of replacing the retired Mike Candrea.

Who will be hired to fill the assistant coaching vacancy?

Candrea retiring and Lowe being promoted from associate head coach means Arizona has an assistant coaching vacancy to fill. Lowe said she will start talking to candidates next week but didn’t provide a timeline for when a hire will be made.

“My ideal staff, and I learned a lot from Coach Candrea, those roles need to be filled and then let them go (to work),” Lowe told AllSportsTucson. “He’s not a micromanager and he’s taught me that very well. And so I think someone coming in, I want them to take over the infield—I think Coach has done such a good job with that—and let them go and let them do their thing. And then they’ll come in and help with hitting a little bit too.”

Lowe is adding Jessie Harper and Dejah Mulipola as graduate assistants and their veteran leadership will help. And, yes, Taryne Mowatt-McKinney will remain on staff and continue coaching the pitchers.

“It was funny because she walked into my office, and she’s like, ‘do I need to get my resume ready?’’’ Lowe laughed. “And I was like, ‘No.’ I should have scared her and said yes, but she’s a fantastic pitching coach. I think she gets better every year and I’m excited to see what she does with even more incoming recruits and growing our younger pitchers into a complete staff.”

Which returners will step up?

Arizona is graduating seven seniors who started at five positions and comprised two of Arizona’s top three pitchers, so there’s no other way to slice it: the lineup will look vastly different, and younger, next season. They have to replace four of their top six home-run hitters and three of their top four run producers.

The only surefire starters returning are redshirt freshman catcher Sharlize Palacios, freshman first baseman Carlie Scupin and redshirt freshman left fielder Janelle Meoño, who is expected to move to center. That’s two elite power hitters and the Pac-12 batting champ. A stellar but small core.

Soon-to-be senior Peanut Martinez will be an option in the corner outfield and third base, and we’ve seen the speedy Bella Dayton (redshirt freshman outfielder) and powerful Allie Skaggs (freshman second baseman) start before, albeit in part-time fashion.

In the circle, junior Hanah Bowen is the obvious No. 1 after posting a 2.06 ERA in 102 innings, the second-most on the team behind graduating senior Alyssa Denham.

Everyone else has a lot to prove. Most of them come from the top-rated 2020 recruiting class.

Sophia Carroll, a powerful shortstop, was once a PGF All-American and could step in for Harper. Her twin sister Aris, who was ranked as the No. 83 recruit in the 2020 class, could start beside her at third base.

Jasmine Perezchica, a former top-30 recruit and PGF All-American, could start in the corner outfield. She’s a speedy slapper like Meoño and Dayton.

The hard-throwing, power-hitting Devyn Netz could emerge as the No. 2 pitcher (or better) and see significant action at designated player too. Jessie Fontes, a former top-60 recruit known for her command and inquisitive nature, will be trying to crack the rotation after only pitching 1.2 innings as a freshman.

First baseman Giulia Koutsoyanopulos is fast and a tremendous defender. She could allow the Wildcats to move Scupin to designated player. However, Koutsoyanopulos only had 13 at-bats in her freshman season, so she, like the others, will have to prove she can swing it at this level.

“They have a fire in their belly already,” Lowe said. “A lot of them have been waiting for their turn, and very patiently I might add. It was a hard situation, but they are ready to step into those roles. They are ready to get to work already. They’re kind of sad that they have to go away for the summer, and come back again, and so am I.”

Lowe added: “One of the good things that came out of this COVID situation was that...they got to learn from a group who were phenomenal vocal leaders. They led by example and, really, we had an influx of young girls that came in that just soaked up every second of it and were also leaders in their own right.”

Which incoming recruits will make an immediate impact?

As of now, Arizona is adding four freshmen—infielder Amber Toven, pitcher Madi Elish and outfielders Allie Enright and Paige Dimler. They should all be able to compete for immediate playing time given the state of the roster.

Dimler, from San Diego, is a left-handed hitter and a potential five-tool player, according to Candrea. She was recently named a PGF All-American.

Enright, a top-40 recruit from Saugus, California, hits for power but from the right side.

Elish, from Crown Point, Indiana, is a crafty pitcher who “spins the ball well, changes speeds really well,” Lowe said. Softball America pegged her as the No. 20 recruit in her class. Her older sister Miranda, a two-way player who starred at Oregon and Texas, was Softball America’s Player of the Year in the shortened 2020 season.

Toven is a left-handed-hitting infielder from Northridge, California who brings “a lot of pop, a lot of great defense,” according to Lowe.

“We’re excited about all the girls coming in,” Lowe said. “They were, after the (current) players, my first call to make sure everything was good, and they’re fired up, excited, ready to go.”

How will Arizona be affected by the transfer portal?

Last offseason, the Wildcats lost several players to the transfer portal because the seniors returned and a huge recruiting class came in, leaving little room for opportunity.

This offseason is much different, with four freshmen coming in and seven seniors going out. You can probably expect Arizona to add talent from the transfer portal this time around. They could use proven players at almost every position, but especially in the circle.

Pitching is what separates good teams from great teams in college softball, so it would not be surprising if Arizona pursues a veteran, top-of-the-line arm like they did with Mariah Lopez a couple years ago.

Hanah Bowen, Devyn Netz, Jessie Fontes and Madi Elish could form a formidable rotation as it is, but only Bowen has major collegiate experience.

How different will Arizona’s style of play and recruiting be under Lowe?

“I don’t think huge changes,” she said. “I think we discovered in the World Series, and Coach talked about it a lot, that we have to be better at singles, doubles, moving runners, bunting people over. It wasn’t our intent to just rely on long balls.”

Lowe did acknowledge some philosophical differences as far as the running game goes.

“There’s times where I’m like, ‘Coach, pinch runner now.’ I want to score in the second inning,” she said. “And he’s like ‘hold on, we’re saving it for the sixth or seventh.’”

Arizona’s recruiting focus won’t be much different, if at all. Lowe, who had been the program’s recruiting coordinator, said Southern California will still be the primary pipeline but added that “pitching is everywhere.”