“Great Grandma” hopes to be baking up some goodies for Arizona coach Mike Candrea and the younger players on the softball diamond in 2021.
Center fielder Alyssa Palomino-Cardoza, who turns 23 next month, has declared she will return to the Wildcats next season, providing the opportunity to play with the top-rated Class of 2020 recruits that were in the eighth grade when Palomino-Cardoza started her Arizona career in 2015-16.
“They’ve already started to call me great grandma and I’ve already made a joke about it,” Palomino-Cardoza said of her teammates today during a ZOOM press conference orchestrated by Arizona softball media relations specialist Danny Martinez.
“I’m excited. I get to play with a class I didn’t think I’d get to play with. I have a relationship with some of them. I’m friends with them even before all of this happened. It will be cool to get to experience a season with them and being a great grandma.”
Palomino-Cardoza has weathered an ACL tear in her right knee that forced her to redshirt as a freshman in 2016 and another similar injury in her left knee that kept her out of the postseason in 2017. She is now enduring a global pandemic that has cut short what would have been her senior season in her fifth year.
Set on returning for a sixth year, after the NCAA granted spring-sport athletes another year of eligibility because of the coronavirus crisis that forced cancellations of the remainder of the season, Palomino-Cardoza said the whole experience has gone by “super fast.”
“I never thought I’d have a fifth year, let alone a chance for six years,” Palomino-Cardoza said. “So definitely just soak up every moment of it. Learn everything you can. I’ve learned so much being an Arizona uniform, and I wouldn’t trade this experience for the world. I know I was meant to be here. So I’m just taking it day by day.”
Senior shortstop Jessie Harper, also part of the video press conference, said with a laugh about Palomino-Cardoza, “She has definitely put a lot of time in that college uniform. That’s a lot of school she’s doing.”
“She’s making the most of it. and without her on the team, I don’t think we’d be complete,” Harper said. “So I’m so happy. … I think she’s coming back. Definitely it just shows how resilient you are in the power of this game and just wanting to play and do that for her family and her teammates too.
“But definitely one ACL tear is enough to break anyone down but she’s overcome so many humps and I know that she’s just gonna work even harder. Definitely, this will be some good rest time for her knees because she’s getting old in age so needs to rest up.”
That comment drew another laugh from Palomino-Cardoza, who has the perfect humble character Candrea will need to communicate with the younger players and ease roster concerns with potentially seven seniors returning mixed with an incoming recruiting class of eight freshmen, including 2019 Arizona Gatorade Player of the Year Carlie Scupin of Tucson High School.
Candrea also has 12 players on his roster who were freshmen, sophomores or juniors this season. Former CDO standout Carli Campbell would have made it 13 but she entered the transfer portal last week.
“I want to finish it the way I want to, playing four years and finishing four years is the goal and in a heartbeat, it was easy to say yes,” Palomino-Cardoza said about returning one more season. “I want to finish out with this team and this class and see what this team can do.”
Both Harper and Palomino-Cardoza — selected first-team All-Americans this season by Softball America — commented on Candrea being a strong advocate with Arizona’s administration about allowing the seniors to return in 2021. Wisconsin announced last week that it will not grant seniors of spring sports another year of eligibility because of the scholarship constraints involved.
“He treats us like we’re his own kids,” Palomino-Cardoza said of Candrea. “We know that he would lay his life down for us. We know that he would do absolutely anything for us, just like we were his own.
“So it’s always reassuring to know that he has our backs no matter what. I know (assistants) Cate (Caitlin Lowe), Coach I (Stacey Iveson) and Timo (Taryne Mowatt-McKinney) are the same way. They let us know as well they all four were going to fight for us no matter what. I think having a coaching staff like that, being led by coach is something that it’s been a great experience. And we love having him as our leader and having them along as well.”
Palomino-Cardoza batted .373 with seven home runs and 26 RBIs in Arizona’s 25 games this season. She did not commit an error in center field. She was coming off first-team All-American, All-Region and All-Pac-12 performances in 2019 and was also on the Pac-12 All-Defensive Team after not committing an error in 71 defensive chances, including four outfield assists. In 197 at-bats, she hit .386, second highest average on the team and eighth highest in the Pac-12.
Despite her older age, and her two serious knee injuries, it appears Palomino-Cardoza is gaining strength as she goes along. She mentioned that during her quarantine she has done plenty of knee exercises, weight training and has been running.
“My knees always has just been a roller coaster throughout these five years, so the time off has been awesome,” said Palomino-Cardoza, who will add a minor in sports management in 2020-21 after earning a degree in criminal justice. “I’ve been doing a lot of rehab stuff at home, a lot of stuff that will continue to strengthen it. So just continuing to do that to know what I can handle and what I can’t handle.
“Just knowing how to say yes and no to my body is definitely something I’ve learned. Just taking that step by step and knowing that it will get stronger and I can get it to where I want it to be.”
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ALLSPORTSTUCSON.com publisher, writer and editor Javier Morales is a former Arizona Press Club award winner. He is a former Arizona Daily Star beat reporter for the Arizona basketball team, including when the Wildcats won the 1996-97 NCAA title. He has also written articles for CollegeAD.com, Bleacher Report, Lindy’s Sports, TucsonCitizen.com, The Arizona Republic, Sporting News and Baseball America, among many other publications. He has also authored the book “The Highest Form of Living”, which is available at Amazon.