AllSportsTucson.com is presenting a series on trainers in Southern Arizona who strengthen the development of young athletes in our community. You can access stories in the series by clicking here.
The serene sunset falling on the lake at Fort Lowell Park with a flock of ducks swimming was a perfect backdrop to Alicia Hollowell-Dunn training one of her standout softball pitchers at an adjacent field the other day.
The synchronicity of Hollowell-Dunn’s communication with Salpointe junior Julia Holt, and Holt’s powerful yet crafty delivery, all made it seem natural. Holt is also a power-hitting first baseman.
“Know what you are working on. Keep your focus.”
“Hitting transfers into pitching and your pitching helps your hitting. Everything goes together.”
“Good control. Keep that motion.”
Hollowell-Dunn, one of the most dominant pitchers in college softball history, belied her fierce image in the circle with Arizona from 2003 to 2006 by calmly pointing out the intricacies of pitching to Holt.
No whistles. No yelling to make a point. No negative motivation.
Her communication with Holt included plenty of eye-to-eye discussion with a professional tone that should take place between a skilled instructor and her pupil.
“She’s taught me so many things,” said Holt, daughter of former Arizona football player and Tucson Youth Football and Spirit Federation president Julius Holt.
“She’s also taught me life’s lessons. We’re both tall. That’s one of the biggest things because she’s taught me since I was 8. She’s taught me about what it’s like being taller than most guys and to just be confident with my height.”
Hollowell-Dunn trains about 20 young pitchers from ages 8 to 17.
During her four-year Hall of Fame career as Mike Candrea’s ace, Dunn struck out 1,768 batters and earned 144 wins, both school records. As a senior, she pitched the Wildcats to the 2006 National Championship and was named the Women’s College World Series’ Most Outstanding Player. She was a four-time All-American.
When Arizona advanced to the title at Oklahoma City in 2006, Hollowell-Dunn out-dueled Texas’ Cat Osterman and Tennessee’s Monica Abbott — both current U.S. Olympic team members.
Arizona beat Texas 2-0 in a second-round game and Tennessee 6-0 to reach the championship round against Northwestern. The win over the Vols occurred the same day Abbott and Tennessee gave Arizona and Hollowell-Dunn their first loss of the WCWS, a 1-0 setback.
“Magnificent” is how Candrea termed Hollowell-Dunn’s performance in the do-or-die game against the Vols in the nightcap. She struck out 14 of the 24 batters she faced, did not walk a batter and allowed only two singles. Tennessee did not advance a baserunner beyond first base.
In the two-game sweep over Northwestern in the championship — victories of 8-0 and 5-0 — Hollowell-Dunn had 25 strikeouts with only one walk in 14 innings. She allowed just one hit in the first game. She scattered nine hits in the second game while gaining support from Arizona’s lineup that included designated hitter Taryne Mowatt-McKinney, catcher Callista Balko-Elmore, shortstop Kristie Fox, center fielder Caitlin Lowe and left fielder Autumn Champion.
“You have to (win a title) to be considered among the U of A greats, the Jennie Finches, the Nancy Evanses, the Susie Parras” Candrea told reporters after the championship, his seventh out of eight with the Wildcats. “Does she need it to be great in Arizona history? Probably not.
“But for her sake, I think her career would have been a little bit empty without it.”
Hollowell-Dunn set the WCWS strikeout record with 64 in her six games en route to the title.
Upon her arrival at Hillenbrand Stadium in 2002 from Fairfield (Calif.) High School, Hollowell-Dunn promised Candrea to pitch the Wildcats to a national title. It took her to the very last game of her illustrious career to follow through on that promise.
Hollowell-Dunn says modestly that she was “lucky” to enjoy a four-year career because Finch had just exhausted her eligibility in 2002, but her achievements are as legendary as any other player coached by Candrea because of her numbers and that championship.
“Jennie had just graduated and Jenny Gladding, who would have been a junior, transferred to Florida to get back closer to home, so I got thrown into the fire (as a freshman in 2003), which was the best thing that could have happened to me,” Hollowell-Dunn said. “I was able to throw — and throw a lot. Everything happens for a reason, so it all worked out that way that there was not somebody older than me that I had to pitch behind.
“So I was like, ‘Here we go. We’ve got to get it done.'”
Hollowell-Dunn was described as quiet or shy by some in the media during her Arizona career. A more apt description could be reticent.
When asked the other day what she looks back on fondly the most of her Arizona career, Hollowell-Dunn did not talk about her stats or accomplishments.
“The friendships that I made were special,” she said. “The sisterhood I have with some of my former teammates, that’s what I love the most. Just looking back at some of the fun things that we did.
“Three of my best friends are still here in Tucson — Leslie Wolfe, Crystal Farley and Jen Martinez. We all played together at the U of A and we all try to get together — pre-COVID — once a month. Our kids are growing up together now. We are able to look back and laugh at some of the things we did in college.”
Hollowell-Dunn laughed and said, “Thank goodness there was no social media back then.”
As fulfilling as Hollowell-Dunn’s Arizona career was both as a player and coach, her life after leaving the university in 2014 has become especially meaningful.
She married Ryan Dunn on New Year’s Day in 2016. Dunn is the head coach of the Catalina Foothills High School girls golf team. They have a 2-year-old daughter named Ensley and a 3-month-old son named Garrett.
Her personal training career also started in 2014 when she left her alma mater after serving two years as the pitching coach. One of her last duties on Candrea’s staff was recruiting Taylor McQuillin, who was Arizona’s ace when the Wildcats returned to the WCWS in 2019.
Hollowell-Dunn has also pursued a career as a dental hygienist, which is her day job. Her role as a trainer gives her a release because it keeps her tied to softball.
“I got into training because I’ve always liked having the one-on-one with the kids and being able to consistently watch them grow,” Hollowell-Dunn said. “I had somebody (Ron Clarke, a former coach at Fairfield) that did that with me that stayed with me consistently. I had somebody I could always go back to even in college when I came home.
“I think just being able to give the kids knowledge of where I’ve played and where I’ve coached, it helps them know there’s different opportunities for them out there. The awesome thing about softball is they can go and do whatever they want. If they want to stay with junior college, they can stay JC and be successful. If they want to go D-III, they can. If they want to try and pursue big-time D-I, that’s out there too and they will know the work that it takes to get there.”
Hollowell-Dunn mentioned that it was not a difficult decision to leave Candrea’s staff. She does not desire to return to coaching a team.
“I was at the point that I knew where I wanted my life path to go,” Hollowell-Dunn said. “To be able to move forward with my relationships, being able to have a family and all that, it was the right path for me.”
The local high school pitchers Hollowell-Dunn trains includes Holt and Salpointe teammates Alyssa Aguilar (a senior), Allie Hayes (sophomore) and Anyssa Wild (freshman), Catalina Foothills sophomore Dayna Han and Empire freshman Callie Drawbaugh.
Many of her pupils, who acquire her services through word of mouth, were born around or well after her Arizona career ended in 2006.
Holt is one of the few who actually knows about Hollowell-Dunn’s dominant career at Arizona from researching and talking with her parents. Her mom Lisa played softball in high school at Cerritos, Calif. Her league included UCLA great Lisa Fernandez. Her school won the state title the year before Fernandez’s team captured the title. Lisa serves as the catcher when Julia is training with Hollowell-Dunn.
“I’m thankful to be trained by somebody like her,” Julia said of Hollowell-Dunn. “When I was younger, it was like my parents forced me to go. Now, I just know how good she was and to be able to learn from her is amazing.
“She finds every little thing. I learn visually and I like things broken down. I really like that she understands me like that.”
The constant sound of ducks quacking in the background could be heard at Fort Lowell Park as Hollowell-Dunn and the Holts packed their belongings before heading off. They convene twice a week now that Hollowell-Dunn has returned after giving birth to Garrett in May.
Hollowell-Dunn is getting back to her normal training schedule after returning to her dental hygienist occupation last week.
She is back to where the lake glistens and the ducks and turtles swim — a harmonious setting where she teaches youngsters her proven techniques of pitching a softball.
Her life with her family at home and pupils in the circle is blissful.
“I want to give my pitchers that maturity to self-coach and grow on their own without having and needing a lot of attention,” Hollowell-Dunn said. “I like having the balance between my family life, my work life and being out here with my players individually on the softball field.”
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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.