Caitlin Lowe has been Arizona softball’s new head coach for two months now, as she takes on the tall task of replacing the newly-retired Mike Candrea.
She sat down with us over Zoom to discuss how the new gig is going, as well as other things like the Olympics, recruiting and what’s next for her team, which will hold its first team practice on Sept. 28.
Here’s the full interview and transcription, which has been lightly edited for clarity.
Ryan Kelapire: Now that it’s been two months since you’ve been introduced as the new Arizona softball head coach, how does it feel to be in that position?
Caitlin Lowe: “Well, I feel very busy. We’ve been recruiting all summer long and we hit the ground running as soon as that day happened with the hiring process, with figuring out the team and what we needed to do but also then just getting the future together for Arizona softball. So it’s been crazy but amazing at the same time, and we have a great staff together working on a lot of stuff. Exciting times. I’m really though just looking forward to having the girls back because it’s really quiet around here and I’m ready for a little bit more of the chaos.”
RK: What’s been on the calendar these past two months?
CL: “I think I’ve been in the office for a total of two weeks because we have been to numerous states watching a whole lot of talent. We just finished our last tournament this past weekend, so now is when we get to finally sit down, get to working on this team, what that’s going to look like in the fall. And really September 1 opens up for our next recruiting classes when we can talk to them, get them on campus for visits, so it’s a little bit of everything right now, honestly.”
RK: When you look ahead to fall ball, what’s on the agenda for your team?
CL: “We have to figure out our new identity, I would say is the biggest thing. We lost a lot of upperclassmen as you know, and it’s gonna be figuring out what the new version of us looks like and that’s really the challenge we face every fall no matter how many we graduate. The personality always changes and it’s a cool thing to witness as a coach, and usually there’s a little bit of hesitation on the side of the freshmen when they first step in. Last year, honestly, we didn’t have that at all. Our freshmen just stepped in like they were meant to be here, so it’s gonna be exciting to see who kind of steps into those leadership role and takes over and really just the pulse of this team because I think they’ve been waiting a long time for this moment and their time and I know they’re chomping at the bit to get back and I can’t wait.”
RK: You talked about figuring out the identity of the team. Do you have an early idea of what that might be? Or does it just kind of happen naturally?
CL: “It always does happen naturally. You might come into a season with an idea of what it might be, and usually we’re shocked that it’s not the way we expected it to be. I just know that they’re hungry and excited so I’m sure that’s going to provide a whole lot of energy and a lot of competition for the fall because everybody’s trying to earn a starting spot. We have great kids and they’re good fierce competitors, so I’m just excited to see how they really mold together as one.”
RK: And then other than the youth of your team, what stands out about your current roster? To me, it seems like you’re going to have a lot of different position battles.
CL: “Correct. We’re gonna have a lot of position battles and there’s a lot of flexibility within that. ... We have pitchers who can hit. We have infielders who can really play multiple positions. And really once you get into practice, I think it’s finding the best combination of us as an infield to start. I think that’s going to be an interesting one. Everybody comes in and plays shortstop, but what is the best Arizona softball infield look like? As a group, how do we work the best together? That’s going to be exciting. I think you’re gonna see people step up their game a whole lot to try to earn those spots. But what really stands out to me, and it stood out last year, is the maturity of 18- and 19-year-olds that we have. Because a lot of people come in and they stumble and their freshman year flies by like that. I think our last freshman class, that wasn’t the case. They soaked up every single possible ounce of information they could, they took advantage of their opportunities when they could, and they’re ready. You don’t really know the freshmen until they step on the field with this current team, but I’m hoping for the same thing. I know a lot of them from visiting with them, visiting with their families, they come from great backgrounds. I’m really excited for them to step in and really just hit the ground running.”
RK: What’s your communication with Coach Candrea been like? Has he stayed involved with the program or has he really tried to take a step back and really let you take the reins?
CL: “Man, he’s been living the life. He went to Italy for a month. Partial work, partial play. He got to advise the Italian national team and really got to work with them but then do Italy, which I know has been on his list for a while now. He got to take Tina and they got to do all the fun things, all the touristy things that you don’t get to do when it’s a softball trip. He had the time of his life. I know he’s up in Pinetop now. He’s had a few events on his calendar, and then when he stopped in, man, it was just great to see him because it had been awhile. It had been a month. But as much as I can bounce things off of him, I always will. He will be a sounding board for me for as long as he will let me know if he doesn’t get annoyed with me. But it’s a great relationship. I know he’s a text, a phone call away. So I’m excited for that part too.”
RK: And I see you’re in Coach’s old office now. What was it like moving into that space? Was it one of those wow-this-is-really-happening moments?
CL: “Well, I’ve officially I think been in every possible office that you can be in. We call them the slanted suites because the roofs are slanted just a bit. That was my (director of) ops year. It’s different. I haven’t fully moved in because I haven’t been here, but yeah, this has been Coach’s office to me for so long. This is where you come when you’re a little scared, feeling like you’re gonna be in trouble. This is where you come when you have great conversations with Coach Candrea, so it’s a little surreal for me right now and once I get moved in, I’ll probably have a better vibe but I’m surrounded by greatness. It’s been awesome to get Lauren (Lappin) in the office and Taryne (Mowatt-McKinney) and as you know Stacy (Iveson) is still here too, so that part has been seamless.”
RK: You mentioned Lauren. What makes her such a great fit for your staff?
CL: “One of the things Coach always talked about was surrounding yourself with great people. She’s just a great human being, a perfect role model for our young women and the knowledge base is just insane. I don’t know if you know her from her playing days at all, but we played against each other our whole lives growing up. I want to say maybe starting at like 7, 8, 9 years old. We always played against each other. She was at Stanford when I was here, and she played shortstop and caught and did everything on Team USA. She even dabbled in the outfield just a little bit. So, the knowledge is there. I’m excited for our catchers too. I think usually catching or outfield gets a little bit neglected in college because of the specified coaches. But just a great person. She comes in with energy, excitement, she wants to make this team better, and she just loves the game. I mean, you’re gonna see that day one, practice, game day, whatever. We just love the game and we love competing, so she fits right in. I knew it would be an easy transition, just from being around her my whole life. As different as we are personality wise, we fit together so well because of our core values.”
RK: Dejah Mulipola and Jessie Harper are coming back as grad managers, right? What will they bring to the staff?
CL: “Yes, both of them are coming back. They’re both competing in Athletes Unlimited (first)...so they’ll get here a little bit late, but Jessie will be awesome helping with the infield, helping with the hitters. Dejah will be right back with the catching, the hitting, so I’m excited for that and especially since we have just a very young group. I think it’s the perfect time for them to step in as players who have proven themselves on both sides of the ball to provide some knowledge to the current team.”
RK: What was it like to see softball back in the Olympics this summer?
CL: “My heart’s happy. It was where it was supposed to be. The only devastating thing is it’s back out again. But just to see the looks on the players’ faces, and it didn’t matter what country, right? They were all waiting for that moment for so long and I have a lot of good friends that played for other countries too. You know, Danielle Laurie is such a good friend that I got to play with and she sacrificed so much, and Team USA did, all of them did. When COVID happened, it broke my heart because you trained for so long to be at your peak performance level. And for that to be taken away and then know that you have a full year, and a lot of those players, you know, they hung up their cleats after that so it was tough for them to go back for another year. Just on the body and whatever and and to see, you know the looks on their faces, the celebrations for the medals. Just loved every second of it and tried to watch as much as I could. I was out of the travel ball fields for most of it but woke up, set my alarm early for the gold medal game, had to watch that. So I got to see a lot of people just pitch their hearts out play their hearts out. A lot of Wildcats too, which was nice.”
RK: Giulia Koutsoyanopulos was one of those Wildcats. How valuable do you think her experience playing for Team Italy will be moving forward?
CL: “You can’t replace it. I think you saw what happened to Dejah when she got to practice with [Team USA], got to live in that identity, and man it just elevated her game that last season. I think everyone could see it. So I’m excited for the maturity that it’s going to bring. I’m excited because I think she (Koutsoyanopulos) learned a lot about just trusting herself and trusting her skills and being able to just play. She’s one of the people that she’s her own toughest critic, and I think a lot of our kids are. So just being able to go out and play the game that she loves for Team Italy, I think that’s going to do wonders for her here. And hopefully a little bit of that experience will rub off on our other players too.”
RK: I saw that G played some outfield for Italy. Obviously you have Carlie (Scupin) at first base, so is playing in the outfield a role you could see G having moving forward?
CL: “She can do anything, man. If she wasn’t left-handed, she could really do it all. But I’ve known since probably she was a junior in high school that she’s a phenomenal outfielder. And you can ask her, I pestered her to break in a regular glove, not just her first baseman glove, all of last season. It provides us with a lot of interesting things that we can do lineup-wise. She can go in and hit and stay in the outfield. She can pinch run. She doesn’t necessarily look like the fastest on the team, but she’s one of the fastest on our team. So we can use her in a whole lot of different ways. I know she has really great range in the outfield. I don’t know if she loves the outfield as much as first base, you’ll have to ask her that, but I think when she’s making SportsCenter type plays, she probably likes it just fine.”
RK: Now that you’re the head coach of Arizona softball, are there any changes fans can expect to see from the program? Like, you putting your personal touch on it in any way?
CL: “I don’t think there’s this massive change that’s going to happen. I think I’ve always said it’s just the messaging. Coach always had such a great pulse on the team and communicated with us in regards to that, and that’s gonna be my job—to know what they need and talk about that as a staff and move forward with it. So, is it some team building? Is it something different in practice? That’s going to be our task and I’m glad to have coaches here in that regard too. But really in the moment, those are going to be our decisions. So you might see a different personality because I’m conveying my personality onto them, but this is not an overhaul. It never should be an overhaul. He’s done things the right way for so long and is respected for a reason and it just speaks to his character really and you can see it throughout our alumni base, our current team. We all share the same pride in wearing the A because of what he’s built.”