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Early enrollee Aissa Silva gives Arizona softball a different look in the rotation

Caitlin Lowe talks about the early enrollee and the new NCAA rule allowing another paid coach

arizona-wildcats-softball-lhp-lefty-left-handed-pitcher-aissa-silva-early-enroll-2023-season Photo courtesy of Aissa Silva

It came together fairly quickly, but now the story of why Aissa Silva and her family moved before her senior year of high school can be told. The left-hander had been in the process of early enrollment at Arizona for several months.

“It actually happened during PGF,” Silva said, referring to Premier Girls Fastpitch Nationals in late July. “I had gotten a call while we were going into the RV park that we were actually staying at for PGF and they asked if I would want to come on a visit. Kind of told me what the plan was to come early. So, I came on the visit, the week before PGF, which I had already planned to come down here to come see my brother and sister anyway, so it kind of really worked out perfectly... And so, I thought about it during PGF. It was like the second to last day I decided that I wanted to.”

Silva said that she knew she would have to give up some things, but she had experienced a lot of the high school rites of passage already. She had older friends, so she had already been to the prom and other important events in high school. Since her family had already planned to move back to the Tucson area, even the move away from her high school friends in California was something she was prepared for. It just came a little earlier than she expected.

For Arizona, it was a decision between taking another transfer or getting an early entry. They already had a relatively large class of pitchers coming in the fall of 2023, including Ryan Maddox and Brooke Mannon. They didn’t really need another freshman for next season. They needed help now.

“Our summers had turned into recruiting transfer portal first and then recruiting PSAs second, and she’s always been someone on our radar,” head coach Caitlin Lowe said. She’s actually from here. But it was a matter of getting a transfer or giving her that opportunity. And since it was either or, we presented her with it, and she was all on board and it was something where we would have spent our money in the portal or spent our money on... someone who is dying to be here, who grew up here, who is a lefty, who’s awesome.”

Silva spent her last semester of high school at Mountain View on Tucson’s northwest side. While taking her first semester classes in person, she finished up second semester English and math online.

“It was definitely a lot but Mountain View really did help me,” Silva said. “I appreciate the help that they gave because they made it as simple as they could.”

Silva started practicing with the team the first week of the new year. She says she’s already learning from pitching coach Taryne Mowatt-McKinney.

“She has helped me a lot so much already, especially with my curveball and my changeup, which are really important pitches to me,” Silva said. “She has done so much already to fix—not my problems—but the things that need to be fixed.”

Silva said part of the process is not overthinking things. How she talks about things is one way of approaching that. It’s why she corrected herself when she was going to refer to the “problems” she has with her pitches.

As for the physical changes, Silva said that the day before, they started with a new approach to her curve.

“With my curveball, we’ve kind of done this little it’s like a slow walkthrough kind of thing,” Silva said. “It’s more of just spinning the ball. I learned that actually yesterday and it has done wonders already. My changeup, really just not slowing my body down and kind of just going as hard as I can.”

Lowe is happy to have a left-hander on the staff for the first time in a while. As former Wildcat left-hander Taylor McQuillin stood in the circle pitching batting practice, the head coach talked about how important that lefty can be.

“Coming from the different side is huge,” Lowe said. “We face a whole lot of lefty heavy lineups in the Pac-12. Really everywhere lefty power has become a really big thing.”

It’s also important that Silva is ready to compete. She’s not afraid of the level of hitting she’s facing now.

“She could have been terrified the first scrimmage day,” Lowe said. “Taryne and I were both super impressed that she got on the mound, and she just went. I think [Carlie Scupin] was in her first group, which she would terrify anybody. She just went right at people. I think her first out was a strikeout, and I was just like, ‘Okay.’ Everybody settled in after that.”

Those strikeouts were something that Silva was known for in high school. At her school in the Sacramento area, she set program records for strikeouts. Now, she has to get used to what it takes to get outs at the next level.

“I think it’s figuring out how to beat people without getting them to swing and miss,” Lowe said. “How to spin it just enough that we get outs. How to spin it into our defense, which is really good right now. It’s going to take her a little while, as all freshmen, to get used to not being, you know, 17 strikeouts in a game is not always gonna happen. I hope it does happen every single game, but I think being able to spin it through the zone and have confidence with that. It’s still going to do its job. It’s still going to get outs. And just understanding that we have to beat people by one run and what does that look like versus a strikeout number or ERA.”

The only pitcher who knows what that looks like at this level is junior Devyn Netz. As the only returner from last year’s pitching staff, Netz is helping a group of two transfers and two freshmen learn what it means to pitch in the Pac-12 or at the Women's College World Series.

“Devyn has been great, honestly, for the dynamic and setting the tone,” Lowe said. “And she came back, I think you saw in the fall, just better and ready and kind of on a mission. And they’ve just followed her. I think there’s great leaders but there’s great followers, and right now, whether you’re talking about the pitching staff or incoming freshmen, they’re just great followers, and they’re all sponges. They all want to play this game the right way and compete. They all want to win. So, I think sometimes more important than good leadership is having those people that are going to jump onboard with you.”

Silva says Netz is taking her under her wing, but there are players outside the pitching staff who are helping her learn the ropes, too. Even underclassmen can take on that role.

“Paige [Dimler] has definitely helped me, like when I’m late a little bit, where it’s like I’m doing something that’s a little off from what they would do,” Silva said. “She’s right there, kind of telling me the ways that it would need to be done, which is really nice.”

Managing everything that comes with college athletics isn’t easy. Between weights, classes, and practice, there are a lot of demands on someone who has never lived on her own before. For Silva, it’s all part of an exciting new adventure.

No more volunteers

Lowe talked about Wednesday’s NCAA vote that allows all volunteer coaches to be made into fulltime paid coaches beginning July 1. That will allow Arizona to have three assistant coaches on the payroll next season with all three involved in recruiting. She’s already preparing for that, as well as filling the recruiting and operations job vacated by the retirement of Stacy Iveson, but neither position will be filled any time soon.

“The summer is when we’ll take care of both of those positions,” Lowe said. “There’s thoughts in my head and there’s probably conversations that will be had. And, you know, we’ll see. I’m fully focused right now on getting this group ready to compete. But I think how cool for it to finally be. I mean, I had the volunteer spot at one point in time and I was in the office from 9 a.m. till practice was done and working the same amount of hours and pouring myself into this team. And luckily, I could only do that because I was playing professionally. So, I think it’s a lot to ask of people.”

Lowe already has someone in mind, but she wouldn’t say whether being an Arizona alumna would be the deciding factor. It would seem to make a candidate more likely to fulfill the requirements Lowe has, though.

“I know,” she said with a laugh. “I’m not gonna tell you today. I have thoughts in mind and it’s nice to have someone with an Arizona background. It’s nice to have people who have played the game, who have been through the recruiting process, but really, they love Arizona softball, and they want to contribute to the success in any way. I think that’s the biggest deal.”

While it will give former players more opportunities to stay in the game, Lowe was especially happy for what it gives current players.

“I’m just excited for softball because it’s only going to make this game better,” she said. “Give our student-athletes more opportunities to get better at this game.”