College softball in Arizona is going through a major metamorphosis right now.
In the span of just 18 days this summer, the game lost more than a half-century of coaching tradition.
On May 20, Grand Canyon University announced the departure of its head softball coach, Ann Pierson. On June 7, the University of Arizona announced the retirement of its legendary coach, Mike Candrea.
Pierson, who was GCU’s first softball coach when the program was started in 2004, was quietly nudged out the clubhouse door after 18 years. Candrea, who led the Wildcats program to eight national championships, retired on June 7 after putting in 36 years directing the Pac-12 program.
Do the math. That’s 54 years in the dugout.
Pierson guided the private Christian-based college in west Phoenix through a four-year transition from Division II to D-I membership and, during the four years since turning D-I, had been cranking out 30-win seasons. And the last two years of D-II play also ended with 35 and 36 wins.
But her 2020 team was 7-20 when the pandemic halted the season, and the 2021 squad finished a disappointing 19-30.
Then came the school’s announcement that the administration and coach had “parted ways.”
Shanon Hays takes over the GCU program after turning around the softball program at his alma mater, Texas Tech, taking a 15-win team in 2009 and increasing that to 38-18 in his first season the next year. He posted winning records in each of his five seasons at the school and finished his time in Lubbock with 186 wins. Prior to that, he was responsible for starting the softball program at Lubbock Christian University, where he compiled an incredible 58-9-2 record.
Through 12 seasons as a head coach, Hays has averaged 39 wins a season.
But Caitlin Lowe will have much bigger shoes to fill as she takes over for a coaching legend at Arizona. Her predecessor won 11 Pac-12 conference titles and made 34 consecutive postseason appearances before turning the reins over to his assistant of the last nine years. Lowe was Candrea’s associate head coach the last four seasons.
Candrea finished his astounding career as the sport’s all-time winningest coach with 1,674 victories.
The 36-year-old Lowe (photo above) has Wildcat red and blue running through her veins. Generally acknowledged as one of the best center fielders ever to play the college game, Lowe played all four years under Candrea, from 2004 to 2007. She gobbled up numerous school records during her playing career and is one of just six players in UofA program history to be named an NFCA All-American in each of her four years.
She also played for Candrea when he coached the USA Olympic team, so she learned the coaching game from the best. And will now get a chance to put those lessons to good use.
“Caitlin is the best person to continue the Arizona legacy into the future,” Candrea offered when the announcement came that Lowe had been selected to take over the storied program.
“She will be a super star for many years to come.”