It’s February. That means it’s softball season—almost, anyway. Just over a week before Arizona softball takes the field to start the 2023 season, five upperclassmen and head coach Caitlin Lowe met with local media. There was a lot on the agenda.
Pac-12 preseason poll and all-conference team
Before the 2022 season got underway, Arizona was selected to finish third in the Pac-12 preseason poll. They were tied with Oregon. They turned out tied with someone, but it wasn’t Oregon and it wasn’t third.
Arizona finished the regular season tied with California for last place in the Pac-12. The Golden Bears beat the Wildcats 2-1 in the season series played in Berkeley.
The coaches don’t expect Arizona to finish last again this season, but they also don’t expect them to finish third. The Wildcats were selected fifth in this year’s preseason poll.
For the first time ever, the Pac-12 also has a preseason all-conference team. Junior infielders Allie Skaggs and Carlie Scupin were both selected from the Wildcats.
NFCA/USA Today coaches poll
The final major national preseason poll was released earlier in the week. As was the case most of last season, the coaches of the NFCA are higher on Arizona than those who create the other three major rankings. The Wildcats are ranked No. 12 by the coaches. Among Pac-12 teams, the only program ranked higher than Arizona is No. 2 UCLA.
The NFCA/USA Today preseason poll has seven of the Pac-12’s nine softball programs ranked. After UCLA and Arizona come No. 14 Washington, No. 17 Stanford, No. 19 Oregon State, No. 22 Arizona State, and No. 24 Oregon. All seven teams were ranked in the final NFCA poll of 2022.
Skaggs said that she and Izzy Pacho are “each other’s tweakers.” In other words, the pair is working together to refine their hitting.
Skaggs has been posting pictures on social media of batting stances and swings she likes and how her own mechanics have changed over the years.
“I love tweaking a swing,” Skaggs said. “I think you only have so many more years left in playing this game. Why not try to make your swing the best that you can make it? I always love to watch other people’s swing. So, I like to say I’m a combination of Baylee Klingler, Erika Piancastelli and Javy Baez. I think I’ve stolen things from all of these people.”
Just got so excited about this comparison… Study your favorite hitters and use them!! Mimic movements, find your style. pic.twitter.com/XSqWqPGs0N— Allie Skaggs (@allieskaggs9) January 23, 2023
As for her teammates, at least one of them looks right inside their own dugout for someone to “steal” from.
“Allie Skaggs,” Scupin quickly responded when asked who she mimics. “I’m not even kidding.”
Arizona needs every one of its five pitchers
The Wildcats have a large pitching staff consisting of returner and presumed ace Netz, transfers Brianna “Breezy” Hardy and Ali Blanchard, and freshmen Syndney Somerndike and Aissa Silva. Reports are that several members of the pitching staff have dealt with injuries since fall ball.
Lowe did not say which pitchers were injured, but she did verify that they are just now getting everyone back.
“We’ve been banged up a little bit,” Lowe said. “I anticipate that everybody’s going to be good to go on Thursday, but definitely working towards our healthiest selves. And as you know with any college softball season, you’re never gonna feel 100 percent...We’ve got five or six games in a weekend. You’re not gonna feel great all the time, but we’re getting there. And yeah, we’re happy to have five on staff, too, to make those instances a little easier.
The rest of the battery
Pacho will be behind the plate as a regular starter for the first time in her college career. While she’s made some starts at catcher in her first four seasons—including getting 12 of the 25 starts in the pandemic-shortened 2020 season—she has never entered a season being the presumed everyday starter at the position.
Lowe said that freshman Olivia DiNardo will see some time behind the plate, but she made it clear that she valued what a fifth-year senior like Pacho brings.
“I think it’s going to make a huge impact on our team, and it already has,” Lowe said. “At third base, you communicate a lot. Catcher, you’re the leader of the field in a lot of ways. Up the middle is where the leadership lies normally. And I’ve seen a change in the way our pitchers react in certain situations. There’s this tunnel vision thing that happens when the battery is just so locked in and connected, and she’s taken the time in the bullpen to work her tail off and make those connections with each of our pitchers so that when they struggle, she can bring them right back. And I think more so than what she’s going to contribute offensively and defensively, she’s going to make us grow as a team in that way.”
Jasmine Perezchica makes connections
Perezchica was probably the player most affected by the decisions of Janelle Meoño and Sharlize Palacios to transfer to UCLA. Perezchica and Meoño were extremely close.
Perezchica said that she is only now getting closer to the rest of her teammates. When Meoño left, she no longer had the person with whom she spent most of her time. The rest of her teammates reached out and took her in, knowing that she needed them.
“They brought me in very well,” Perezchica said. “And, like I said, I was kind of just being myself. But Cait kind of described it as I was flourishing as a person, getting out there and just hanging out with everyone, hanging out with the team.”
Perezchica has now taken over the centerfield position her best friend used to have and may take over her leadoff position, too. Lowe said her new starting centerfielder is committed to getting better in every way she possibly can.
Slap hitters have grown more accustomed to being called out of the box during their at-bats these days. Perezchica wants to avoid making those kinds of outs, so she went right to the source.
“She’s fixed her feet,” Lowe said. “She’s in the box. All the time. And I give her credit because she went up to an umpire who works for scrimmages, and she said, ‘Let me know.’ Not a lot of people are going to do that. They don’t want to draw attention...and she was like...that’s not going to happen this year.”
Lowe said that the leadoff will likely be either Perezchica or Blaise Biringer. Regardless, the changes Perezchica has made—perhaps because she no longer withdraws with her best friend—are noticed by those around her.
“She came back a new person in the fall,” Lowe said. “I thought she grew up a lot last year, but I thought she made it a point to come back ready to go and really take on a leadership role this year.”
For the entire group, making those connections is what they want to define their team.
“[Lowe] kind of led us in the direction of, ‘Hey, these are people that you’re going to be with for probably the rest of your life and you’re always gonna be in contact with them,’” Netz said. “It’s a judgment free zone and we can just be comfortable. We can be who we are.”