For six years and through a major renovation of the stadium, outfielder Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza called the third-base dugout at Rita Hillenbrand Memorial Stadium home. Last weekend, she returned, but it was to the first-base side.
“I think I’ve given her like three hugs and I think the whole team has given her a million hugs,” Arizona head coach Caitlin Lowe said. “And obviously she’s a Wildcat for life and you love seeing her, but hate seeing her in that uniform.”
Palomino-Cardoza is serving as the volunteer assistant coach for Oregon softball this season under head coach Melyssa Lombardi. It’s a position many young former players take to get their feet in the coaching door, but it’s one that former Arizona head coach Mike Candrea wished wasn’t so prominent.
Candrea argued in the past that another paid assistant position should be added for softball, allowing more young players to stay in the game after their playing careers. Palomino-Cardoza found a way to stay in the game, even if it’s one that requires her to find another way to support herself on top of coaching and traveling with the Ducks.
“I got an opportunity and I took it,” Palomino-Cardoza said. “It’s been a lot of fun. It’s been really good.”
It’s long been an established idea in many sports that a new coach should not start her coaching career in the same program where she played. The idea is that she will learn how other programs do things and pick up new ideas by branching out. Palomino-Cardoza doesn’t see Oregon as any different than Arizona, though.
“Honestly, it’s not much different with how the program is run,” she said. “We want to be a winning team or winning program, and that’s what it was like (at Arizona)...Being tough but being able to have fun, that’s kind of the same goal that we have (at Oregon).”
The hardest part for Palomino-Cardoza is not being able to take the field anymore.
“It’s definitely different not putting on a uniform,” she said. “I think that’s one of the biggest differences but it’s just, I don’t know, it’s been a journey, and it’s something that I’m incredibly thankful for to have this opportunity.”
In addition to how the programs are run, they have other things in common this season. Both came into the season ranked and are still holding onto rankings—although Oregon’s is much higher than Arizona’s—but have been unable to live up to those expectations.
Like Arizona, Oregon has encountered issues with its pitching. In the case of the Ducks, it’s because of the season-ending injury to Brooke Yanez. The team is 5-10 in Pac-12 play, just slightly better than Arizona’s 4-11. They have encountered an especially rough patch as their schedule has gotten more difficult, going 1-8 in their last three series against UCLA, ASU, and Arizona.
The Ducks still have to face Washington and Oregon State, two teams that won their series against the Wildcats, while Arizona still has California and Utah on their schedule. Those are the only two series Oregon has won in Pac-12 play.
None of that concerned Palomino-Cardoza over the weekend, though. Instead, it was about coming home and knowing she was welcomed.
“It definitely felt different,” she said. “It felt surreal, but...just the sense of peace and knowing that I’m still loved here no matter what...that sense of home, it was really bittersweet walking on this field again.”