Arizona catcher Izzy Pacho has had a desire to lead others and help them create their own futures since she arrived on campus. Her goal has always been to become a teacher. Over her almost five years as a Wildcat, it has evolved into a leadership position on the field and a drive to carry that into the future as a coach.
Pacho grew up on Tucson’s southside, attending schools in the Sunnyside school district until it was time to go to high school. At that time, the decision was made to move to the generally more affluent northwest side to cut down on some of the travel her family did in pursuit of her dream of being a Division I softball player.
“It was definitely a big transition and like kind of a culture shock,” Pacho said. “I grew up off of 12th and Valencia, went to Sunnyside elementary schools and middle school. Was planning on going to either San Miguel High School or Desert View. And then my club team was based out of Oro Valley, so moved out there. It was just a family decision, just make our lives a little bit easier being closer to my Suncat team and instead of driving so much. it was definitely a huge culture shock, though, going from growing up with my friends ever since I was in third grade to eighth grade and then moving out to Oro Valley, but I loved it and love Ironwood Ridge.”
The ability to adapt and do what she needs to do in order to reach her goals hasn’t left Pacho. It has been part of her life on and off the field since she arrived at UA in the fall of 2018.
For her first three years at Arizona, it was a lot of work that fans didn’t see because she wasn’t playing a lot. After being a PGF All-American her senior year of high school and helping Ironwood Ridge win two state titles, she had to learn how to deal with the difficulty of pinch hitting and not knowing when she would get playing time. She kept working behind the scenes.
During the 2021 season, she had to draw on her adaptability in new ways. Because of the pandemic, the players were not allowed to socialize with each other as a team. Unless they were practicing, lifting, or playing, they were only allowed to spend time with those in their own households. That made things especially difficult for Pacho and teammate Carlie Scupin.
“I think COVID had a lot to do with our chemistry kind of struggling especially in 2020, 2021,” Pacho said. “You [could] only hang out with your roommates and you can’t really have team dinners. You can’t go do fun things together. It was really just lift, practice, go home. And so, like for me and Scoop—we didn’t have roommates—we weren’t really getting that bonding experience with everybody all together.”
It wasn’t the last time she would have to adapt. Last semester, she learned what it meant to stretch herself yet again when she was student teaching in a fourth-grade classroom while preparing for her fifth and final year of college softball.
“It was exhausting,” Pacho said. “Those three months of waking up at around five. I would lift by myself from six to seven, and then go straight to school where I was teaching from about like 7:30 to 3:30. And then would change in my car, drive straight here, and as soon as I got onto the field—everyone was waiting for me—we would start.”
She loved working with the kids, many of whom were very interested in her life as a softball player. The job she did was obviously appreciated, as Pacho was named the Outstanding Elementary Education Student Teacher of the Year by the University of Arizona College of Education.
“Teaching is the one thing that I love just as much as softball, and so that was definitely eye opening and it just made me appreciate all the teachers that I ever had,” Pacho said. “I always wanted to teach growing up and so it was just really fulfilling, and I got to take my experiences in the classroom and bring them on to the field. I loved it.”
As for how she might be taking those lessons out onto the field, Pacho will be returning behind the plate as the starting catcher. While she has spent the past four years catching bullpen sessions and even getting some starts, this will be the first season she has gone into the year knowing that she will be spending most of her time behind the mask from the first inning.
“One thing that I think a lot of people haven’t really seen is I’ve caught for all five years,” Pacho said. “I do the drills and stuff. But definitely being in the game is—it’s a different feeling I have. I feel like I’m a different vibe behind the plate than I am at third base. I feel like I get a little more quiet and calm. But I love it. It was my first position and I feel most comfortable back there...So, I’m really excited.”
Arizona head coach Caitlin Lowe said that the ability to lead is one of the most important things Pacho brings to the position.
“At third base, you communicate a lot,” Lowe said. “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 how our pitchers react in certain situations. You know, 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.”
Pacho thinks what she’s learned from her work in education will help in that regard.
“The way you talk to people, looking at the different learning styles of everybody, I think that’s one huge thing that stands out,” Pacho said. “Like if you tell [Allie] Skaggs one way that might not work for me and vice versa. Everyone is different. And so, I think that’s one thing I’ve come to appreciate is everyone takes things differently.”
Those lessons are something she wants to continue using on the field even after she’s done playing. Pacho, Skaggs, and Carlie Scupin ran camps together over the summer. Young players from around Tucson came out to learn from current Wildcats. It helped strengthen another dream Pacho has—being a coach.
“I think the most important thing for me was building those connections with kids,” Pacho said. “If I had those opportunities at their age, like, oh my gosh, that would have been the best part of my life. Making a connection with someone that’s doing what you want to do.”
Wanting to be on the other side of that relationship is a rather new thing in Pacho’s life, though. When she originally decided she wanted to be a teacher, it wasn’t simply because she wanted to be in the school system to coach. Wanting to be a teacher came first. She wasn’t sure she even wanted to stay in softball in a formal way when she was done with college.
“I think my dream of coaching just kind of went away,” Pacho said. “I finally found myself outside of the sport and just kind of was like, ‘Okay, that’s my path. I’ll just do lessons and camps and clinics and stuff.’ But I kind of have a love for this game. So, I would love to stay in it as much as I can.”
With that desire to stay in the game back in full force, she’s looking toward the future. When she’s done with her final season at Arizona this spring, she’s hoping for opportunities in both fields.
“Teaching, if it happens right after I’m done with my masters, then great,” Pacho said. “If not, whatever opportunity comes at me, I’m gonna just take advantage of it.”