It’s been a busy few weeks for Arizona softball. The Wildcats wrapped up their fall development season this week. They also landed another highly-rated recruit. What can the fans take away from their exhibition season? What can they expect from their newest recruit, who will land in Tucson in 2024?
The Devyn Netz changeup
Heading into fall ball, Arizona head coach Caitlin Lowe discussed how important Devyn Netz’s changeup would be when the spring season finally rolls around—and how good it was already in the fall.
“Her changeup is on point and one of her best pitches, which is what she was missing and she started to get...in the postseason,” Lowe said in mid-October. “It really just changed the game for her. It makes her hard stuff seem a bit harder, but [also] more velocity right now because she’s healthy.”
On Saturday afternoon, when Netz made her last fall appearance, it was obvious how much of a difference there is now between her fast pitches and her changeup.
“How did you think it was working?” asked Arizona head coach Caitlin Lowe after the final game of the fall season.
The truth is that it looked good, and there was objective evidence to back that up. Netz was regularly going from around 60-63 mph to 49-54 mph on back-to-back pitches.
“It’s a factor,” Lowe said. “Now people have to think about it. As someone that works with the hitters, when you have to think about multiple speeds, that hard gets a little bit harder. And the changeup is hard to sit on in all counts. I’m just excited with how much command she has over all of her pitches right now, and I think she’s only going to get better when we start in February.”
Shortstop in the fall
In the leadup to the fall season, shortstop Sophia Carroll was unable to practice in the days prior to the opening games. Last year’s starter at the position sat out the first game against Pima Community College as a result. It gave freshman Tayler Biehl plenty of time to get her first college experience in front of a fall ball crowd that was considerably larger than most because both teams are local.
“I think [Biehl is] great,” Lowe said. “When Soph came out, we were worried about a freshman stepping in there and she didn’t skip a beat. She was loud, confident, speaks on the field knows what to say in certain situations, and I think you can see just defensively. She’s studying and working offensively at the plate right now.”
Moving on the base paths
Arizona has not been a base-stealing team in several years. During the fall, it was—and not just because of one player. Leadoff batter Jasmine Perezchica had successfully attempted six stolen bases in six games headed into the final outing against Chandler-Gilbert.
The freshmen were especially skilled in base stealing. Kaiah Altmeyer was successful on the bases all fall, Biehl swiped some bases, and Dakota Kennedy was 1-2 headed into the CGCC game.
Lowe was pleased with the speed when paired with the power of players like Allie Skaggs, Carlie Scupin, and even Blaise Biringer, who showed some pop after being light on home runs over her first two seasons in college.
Is it something fans should look forward to seeing more of when the games count and when the unlimited substitutions are no longer in effect?
“Well, we can’t run Kaiah 27 times again, so that’s not gonna happen,” Lowe said with a laugh. “But it’s nice to see her kind of up our pace and challenge everybody else to do the same. I think we followed suit when she started the momentum. So I think that was cool. And yes, that is part of the plan. We did a lot of base running this week. You can ask the girls. Just making it a point to make things happen and not just rely on home runs or big hits, but let’s make things happen on the bases too.”
Arizona’s latest commit
Jenna Sniffen knows what it means to leave her mark on a program. The class of 2024 third baseman and right-handed pitcher from Honolulu, Hawai’i led Maryknoll School to its first state title in program history last season. She plans to bring those winning ways to Arizona softball in the fall of 2024.
Sniffen is ranked No. 16 by Extra Inning Softball.* While Sniffen plays third base for Mercado 16U - Hovermale, she pitches for her high school team. She is listed only at third base by EIS.
She led her high school team to the first state championship in program history last season. Sniffen pitched a three-hitter and hit a three-run homer in the first inning of the championship game. The sophomore was named Most Outstanding Player.
Sniffen has been named the Player of the Year for the state of Hawai’i by both Gatorade and MaxPreps. She also has a fairly recent history of playing in the Little League Softball World Series.
Sniffen is the fourth known commit for 2024. Arizona also has commitments from catcher Emma Kavanagh and pitchers Sarah Wright and Kate Vance.
*Note about EIS player rankings: EIS rankings include ties. When players tie for a position, EIS counts them all as a single player. So, if four players are ranked No. 1, the fifth player on the list will be ranked No. 2 instead of No. 5 as is generally done in cases of ties. This means that an EIS “Top 100” list will usually include well over 100 individual players. Sniffen is tied for No. 16 in the EIS Class of 2024 rankings that were done earlier this year. In a traditional ranking system, she would be tied for No. 84.
2024 commit Emma Kavanagh at USA Softball’s High Performance Program National Selection Event
Like her fellow 2024 commits, Kavanagh is in the Extra Elite 100 compiled by EIS. Kavanagh is the second-ranked catcher in the class, although she also plays first base. Overall, she is tied at No. 7. **
Kavanagh advanced out of the regional HPP Indentifier event in Wixom, Mich. She traveled to Mesquite, Tex. to play on the U17/18 Stars in the national event billed as the “pipeline to USA Softball Junior Women’s National Team.”
**Note about EIS player rankings: EIS rankings include ties. When players tie for a position, EIS counts them all as a single player. So, if four players are ranked No. 1, the fifth player on the list will be ranked No. 2 instead of No. 5 as is generally done in cases of ties. This means that an EIS “Top 100” list will usually include well over 100 individual players. For Kavanagh, her No. 2 catcher designation is accurate because there is only one player at No. 1. She is tied with one other player at No. 2. Her No. 7 overall ranking works out to a tie for No. 25 in a more traditional ranking system.
Updated: Added pitcher Sarah Wright to the known commits for 2024.