As freshman shortstop Tayler Biehl prepared to talk to the media on Tuesday, she turned to the list of Arizona softball All-Americans behind her and pointed at the name Janae Leles.
“That’s my aunt,” she said with pride.
Biehl’s family is full of Wildcats. In addition to her aunt’s storied softball career in Tucson that included national titles in 2006 and 2007, her grandfather John Leles played tennis at UA. Her brother Ryan currently attends school at Arizona, as well.
Biehl has been preparing to be a Wildcat for her entire life. Even her aunt’s player bio on the archived version of the old Arizona website listed her niece and nephew among her family members.
“I was like three, maybe even four when they went to the World Series,” Biehl said. “So, since I was younger, I’ve been around Arizona softball and softball, in general. She had a big impact, I would say, on being around softball as I grew up and just loving the game. Then, coming here, she was a volunteer assistant coach when I was 10ish, 11 maybe, so I was always here for that.”
Biehl didn’t have to wait long to walk out onto the same field where her aunt played. She was Arizona’s starting shortstop during fall ball and got the opening day start at the position this season. She played in four of Arizona’s five games last weekend, starting in two of them.
She’s not just a shortstop, though. At Vista del Lago High School in the Sacramento, Calif. area, she started her career at second base, although she also played at short and in the outfield. It’s not just the versatility that Arizona head coach Caitlin Lowe loves about Biehl’s defensive game, though.
“Her presence is fantastic,” Lowe said. “I think, once again, she’s just a competitor and anything she does and anywhere she’s put, she’s gonna compete. And she can literally play any infield position and any outfield position, so it’s nice to have that flexibility. But she came in ready to go.”
A testament to that was Biehl’s ability to get things going offensively despite not hitting as much as a normal starter would. When pitcher Devyn Netz was in the circle, the designated player hit for the shortstop whether that was Biehl or junior Sophia Carroll. Biehl still found a way to make good use of her plate appearances and make things happen on the base paths.
Biehl went 4 for 7 as a hitter, ending the weekend with a .571 batting average. She also had an RBI, four runs scored, and two stolen bases. The ability to swipe bags was something she showed in the fall and something that Lowe’s team has been doing more of in the early going.
They haven’t talked about it much, but Lowe has said several times that she likes the scrappiness of the team.
“I love singles,” Lowe said.
Biehl and her teammates have taken to that philosophy.
“She knows a lot of us are fast, a lot of us are aggressive baserunners, so she kind of lets us do our thing,” Biehl said. “And when [assistant coach Lauren Lappin] gives us the sign or…whatever the situation is and we’re called to steal or base run, you’re on your horse and you’re going.”
It’s not new for Biehl. In high school, the only season she had fewer than 19 stolen bases was during the pandemic-shortened season of 2020. In her other three seasons, she had 19, 21, and 26. Even in 2020, she stole eight bases in just five games.
So, what makes Biehl good at stealing bases?
“Just being fast, obviously,” she said. “Well, not just being fast, but understanding the catcher’s throw. Having faith that you’re going to get there because if you’re like ‘eh,’ you’re not going to get there. Having a good lead. Being on time. A good slide and making sure you’re on time is really the big key.”
After getting to play her first games on Mike Candrea Field, Biehl now gets to join her teammates on their first road trip. They won’t play in Hillenbrand Stadium again until Mar. 1. In the meantime, they are playing in the TaxAct Clearwater Invitational in Florida this week and will be in Fayetteville, Ark. next week for three games against Arkansas and two against Drake.
“Going to Florida, going to Clearwater, that’s awesome,” Biehl said. “Being by the beach, and then, obviously, playing the game that we love with the people I love being around. Having the experience to travel, because that’s an experience I get to have for college.”
On the field, she’s looking forward to the level of competition.
“We’re gonna see the best of the best,” Biehl said. “Because I’ve never seen someone like [Florida State pitcher] Kathryn Sandercock and all those people who throw heat or good spin. I haven’t really seen that, so I’m excited to see what I can do and what we can do as a whole.”