Arizona softball 'grew up tremendously' during Women's College World Series run
OKLAHOMA CITY — In a few short weeks, Caitlin Lowe saw her team transform into a one that was just happy to reach the postseason to one that expected to win the Women's College World Series.
And while Arizona's magical run came to an end Sunday at Hall of Fame Stadium, the young team created an identity for itself on the biggest stage.
"I think they did it in their own special way, which was cool," Lowe said. "They didn't try to be last year's team or the teams of the past. They did it with their own stamp, having fun. Izzy Pacho catching balls and smiling about it because she's just having so much fun playing the game, and 5-foot-5 Janelle Meoño chest bumping and so uber confident."
They all turn to Selection Sunday as the turning point of the season — when the team gathered at Lowe's home to watch the selection show and felt a sense of relief when they saw "Arizona" in the NCAA Tournament bracket.
It removed all the pressure of extending the program's 34-year postseason streak, while also giving them a clean slate.
At that point, it didn't matter that the Wildcats were tied for last in the Pac-12 or were 0-8 in conference play at one point.
Everyone was 0-0.
"I looked at it from that perspective and I took it and I ran with it," said sophomore pitcher Devyn Netz, "and I'm pretty sure everyone else did as well."
As Lowe described it, the Wildcats entered the postseason as an assortment of pieces.
By the time their run ended, they were a complete puzzle. Their pitching, defense and hitting all came together at the right time, in the right places. Columbia, Missouri, Starkville, Mississippi then Oklahoma City.
They always thought it could, even if no one else did.
"We believed wholeheartedly," said catcher Sharlize Palacios. "At Caitlin's house, we didn't want it to be over. I don't want it to be over now."
All nine position players who started in the WCWS have at least one year of eligibility left.
That means Arizona could trot out the same starting lineup in Lowe's second season at the helm.
Only this time, every player will have extensive WCWS experience. And not just happy-to-be-there experience. The we've-been-in-the-trenches kind of experience.
"Sitting here right now, I wish I was the next team going to the semifinals, but you learn a lot doing it yourself," said Netz, a reserve during Arizona's 2021 WCWS run. "And sitting there and learning and watching is way different than playing."
If there were any doubts about the future of Arizona softball under Lowe, they're gone now. Sure, it's a new era, but the championship standard still remains.
"I think we grew up tremendously," said Lowe, the first first-year coach to lead her team to the WCWS. "And as much as they might not see it now, I have the perspective of how great this is going to be for them in the future and how much this experience -- you know, expecting to win in Oklahoma City will do for them when they show up to their first individual (practice) next year.
"We said goodbye to three great seniors, but, man, our team is young and hungry and ready to be back, and they want to be back tomorrow. That's just something that fuels you for the future. And I hope they use that in the right way."
It’s more than just a game, it’s about who you surround yourself with. @CaitlinLowe reflects on all she’s learned about herself in her first year as @ArizonaSoftball's head coach.#BearDown | #BackThePac pic.twitter.com/KE45jofnpJ
— Pac-12 Network (@Pac12Network) June 6, 2022