Caitlin Lowe spent the first day of her head coaching career meeting with players, chatting with recruits, and crafting her introductory speech.
It wasn’t until she arrived at her press conference and saw the placard that read “Caitlin Lowe, head coach” that it finally dawned on her that she’s the one with the larger-than-life task of replacing Mike Candrea—her mentor, the architect of the Arizona softball program and the most accomplished coach in NCAA softball history.
“Everything was happening so fast, and then today I was like, ‘wow, this is truly an honor,’” Lowe said Wednesday in McKale Center. “I’m excited and also a good kind of nervous. Everything that’s been worth it in my life I’ve been nervous for. To me, that makes you work even harder. Coach always says it’s good to have butterflies, just make them fly in formation. That’s kind of what I take from it going forward.”
For a program that touts the motto “Tradition Lives Here,” Lowe was an obvious fit to succeed Candrea. The 36-year-old was a four-time All-American and two-time national champion with the Wildcats from 2004 to 2007. She has been on staff for almost a decade now, most recently serving as Candrea’s associate head coach for the last four seasons.
“So she’s learned from the best,” said UA athletic director Dave Heeke.
When Candrea decided the 2021 campaign was going to be his last, he was at ease knowing Lowe was waiting in the wings.
“Caitlin, to me, has been a superstar in everything she’s done,” he said. “From the time she was a player here to the time she was in the NPF, to the time she played in the Olympic team. I mean, if you really go back and look at her accomplishments, they’ve been phenomenal, but I have been overly impressed with her ability to lead, her ability to communicate. She’s got strong principles that are a lot like mine. I think she’s got a great grasp of what we want the program to be. She was a shoe-in. I didn’t have to think twice about it.”
Candrea lured Lowe back to Arizona in 2012 for this very reason. They were attending former UA outfielder Autumn Champion’s wedding when he offered Lowe a job as the director of operations. It was the only vacancy Arizona had at the time but he wanted her in the program somehow, someway.
Lowe had no idea what that role entailed but accepted it anyway.
“I get here, it’s all office work,” she said. “It’s very little coaching and I was really, really bad at that job. I belonged on the field.”
So, the following season, Lowe was reassigned as a volunteer assistant coach. Her paycheck was reduced to zero. She made ends meet with the money she was making playing professionally in the summer. It wasn’t much.
“That wasn’t the most financially responsible decision,” she laughed.
But it was the right one.
“The volunteer coaching year changed my life,” Lowe said. “I realized that I could make an impact. I realized that I could learn so much from [Candrea]. It’s never been about being a head coach as much as it’s been about coming in and impacting this program.”
Lowe ended her playing career in 2014 so she could join Arizona’s coaching staff full-time in 2015. She never looked back.
“People ask me if it was hard to retire from playing the game and it really wasn’t because when I got here I realized that the game was part of my life,” she said. “It wasn’t playing the game, it was just being around the game, being around a team, being a part of a bigger picture. So I didn’t think about it.”
Lowe was promoted to associate head coach in 2018. She has primarily worked with the outfielders and formulated Arizona’s offensive gameplan. Among other things, that has meant poring over game film, compiling scouting reports and disseminating them to the players.
“She’ll sit down and talk to us about what the pitcher throws, how often she throws things or how she throws to lefties versus righties and stuff like that,” said junior outfielder Peanut Martinez. “I think that’s helped us a lot.”
As time wore on, Lowe shouldered more responsibility.
“One of the biggest issues in our game is when you get too many voices in ears, so I allowed her to be the voice,” Candrea said. “And so if I have something to say about a hitter, I tell her and let her communicate it. She’s been totally in charge of the preparation for the opponents. I would have never been able to give that up 10 years ago, but I’ve had this transition in the back of my mind.”
Candrea said there have been many moments where it was obvious that Lowe was head coach material.
“I’ve seen her get the girls together and call a timeout and talk to them about an approach at the plate and watch the approach work,” he said. “That catches your eye. Number one, when she communicates, you see eyeballs to her. That’s the first sign. When she talks, kids listen. And then number two, that the quality of the information that’s going out is spot on.”
Lowe said she communicates with players in a way that is “calm until the fire needs to be brought.” They find Lowe relatable because she attended Arizona, played the game at the highest level and is the mother of two children.
“She’s honestly someone I can look up to,” Martinez said. “Just like we always say about Coach (Candrea) as a father figure, she takes us under her wing like a mother figure.”
When Lowe met with the players this week, she promised to give them her best self every day. That means Arizona softball could look and sound different than it did under Candrea, but the pillars of the program will be the same. The Wildcats will still recruit Southern California hard and pride themselves on family, fundamentals, competing for national championships and producing model citizens.
Arizona’s style of play may incorporate more speed and short game—Lowe’s bread and butter as a player—but she noted that Candrea had already been moving the program in that direction anyway. Only now, she’s the one who has to implement it.
“It’s been a week full of emotions because many of us thought this day would never come, and count me as part of the crowd who used to say, ‘man, I pity the fool who takes over for Coach Candrea,”’ Lowe said. “Well, here I am. I’m that fool and I’m ready to go.”