A new era in Arizona softball has officially begun as Caitlin Lowe was introduced as the seventh head coach in program history in McKale Center on June 9, 2021. Lowe was joined by family members, her predecessor and recently retired head coach Mike Candrea, University of Arizona softball alumni and current players, UA Athletics Director Dave Heeke and UA President Dr. Robert C. Robbins.
Lowe reflected on how becoming the head coach of such a storied program was always a dream of hers but never thought that this day would ever come to fruition.
“I always wanted to be helpful at this program in any way I possibly can,” Lowe said. “When [Mike Candrea] promoted me to associate head coach he knew that he was grooming me to be a head coach somewhere, someday. Obviously, this is a dream job for me. I believe in this place to my core, the Tucson community and the athletic department. I believe that 18-to-22-year-olds come into this program and leave better people. This has always been a dream of mine. Did I think I was going to be a head coach when I took the director of operations role? I think absolutely not, but I just wanted to be an impact on this team and community.”
Lowe won't just be replacing anybody as head coach. She’s taking over a program that was headed by one of the greatest head coaches in the history of the sport in Candrea. In his 36 years at Arizona, Candrea made 24 Women’s College World Series appearances and won an incredible eight national titles.
The illustrious Candrea will certainly be a hard act to follow. However, Lowe emphasized how she will be herself when managing the team, and her coaching will be built on the foundations that Candrea created ever since he first arrived in Tucson.
“Our foundation is solid,” Lowe said. “[Candrea] has built this program on pillars that we live by. I’m going to come in and give them my best self every day. That means it might sound a little different and look a little different, but it’s all built upon that same foundation. I wanted them to know that, but really, I wanted to see how they were moving forward. I’m very impressed with where they’re at, where they want to go and the control they want to take over this team which is very exciting.”
Lowe, a four-time All-American during her collegiate playing career at Arizona, touched on how leadership is a vital principle for a team to possess and how she noticed a positive that came out of the COVID-19 pandemic for the team.
“One of the things I told the girls is I truly believe leaders aren’t leaders until they can produce more leaders,” Lowe said. “One of the good things that came out of this [coronavirus] situation was that they all got to play together. They got to learn from a group who are phenomenal vocal leaders that led by example. We had an influx of young girls that came in that just soaked up every second of it and were also leaders in their own right.”
Lowe mentioned how she is very eager to begin her new position and promises that her team will be the most prepared in the country come next season.
“We start recruiting tomorrow,” Lowe said. “I had 21 meetings on Monday, and they have a fire under their belly already. A lot of them have been waiting for their turn very patiently. They are ready to step into those roles. They are ready to get to work already. They’re kind of sad that they have to go away for the summer and then come back; so am I. It’s just getting them back on the field [and] seeing what it looks like again. We lose a class [and] gain a class every year, and we just hit the ground running. [Candrea] has taught me all about the process and the grind. They will be one of the most well-prepared teams in the country.”
During this year’s Women’s College World Series, speculation began to buzz that this may be Candrea’s final season as the head coach of the Arizona softball team. That speculation turned into reality as the winningest coach in Division-1 softball history announced his retirement two days after Arizona was eliminated by Florida State in the College World Series.
Despite all the rumors around softball circles, Lowe discussed how last year would have possibly been Candrea’s last season if it weren’t for the pandemic canceling the season altogether. Out of great respect and admiration, Lowe and the rest of the program weren’t going to allow their head coach to go out like that and would rather see him go out on his own terms.
“[Coach Candrea] had discussed the [coronavirus] year possibly being his last,” Lowe said. “I can remember, I think we had a Tuesday night game. Wednesday, our season ended up being canceled, and it was just a shock to everybody, and sitting in the office and just saying, that wasn’t your last game. That’s not how it’s supposed to end. I didn’t know at that time that it was going to be me. I just knew that that’s not how a coach is supposed to go out. We kind of redirected towards, let's get ready for next year. Focus on a run to OKC and make this the greatest year of our lives. Recently, it kind of hit me that, one, he had groomed me for being a head coach. He’s the greatest mentor in the game for that … that I could actually have a shot at this position.”
Heeke talked about how important it was to hire someone in-house who is very familiar with the program and knows what it will take to continue a winning tradition with arguably the most recognized softball program in the country.
“To have an opportunity to have someone who understands what this program is all about [and] what it stands for is important here in the state and in Tucson,” Heeke said. “This is a national elite level program [and] a leader for softball nationally. To bring someone on that has that background and has that experience, has played the game at the highest level and then can move to be a head coach. Those are outstanding pieces, and I think that’s what we want. That’s the type of growth that we want in the game that we want people who are prepared to become head coaches to take over. Why not have someone who’s been embedded in that program, understands those values and the culture that exists here to continue to grow and to continue to be a leader in the game? I think that’s an outstanding credit too, to be a leader as a woman, to go forward to be a leader in this game.”
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