Traditionally strong softball programs at Salpointe, Sabino, Sahuaro and Tucson underwent a changing of the guard before the season with each playing for a new head coach in 2022.
By no coincidence, each of them won their opening game Thursday in the Dorado Classic at Lincoln Regional Park.
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Three-time defending state champion Salpointe with former Lancer standout Tricia Sztan as coach beat Flowing Wells 21-0 in five innings. Sztan replaced Amy Baray-Rocha, who resigned in December after leading the Lancers for seven seasons.
Sabino, the champs in the last two 3A state tournaments, beat the Lady Caballeros 14-2 in an earlier game under new coach Cyndi Cubillas (a teammate of Sztan’s when they played at Salpointe). Kyle Howell, who coached the Sabercats to a 3A state title last year with Cubillas his assistant, left to become an athletic administrator at Mica Mountain.
Tucson defeated Marana 16-4 in five innings in coach Chacho Morales’ debut. Morales took over the program after the legendary Bert Otero, a Pima County Sports Hall of Famer, resigned to spend more time with his wife, who is undergoing physical therapy for a foot condition.
Sahuaro’s coach Amy Pacheco is not new to the program. Pacheco is a former Cougar standout who graduated only seven years ago. She played only two seasons ago at Morgan State after a successful two years at Pima College. She replaces Jeff Fowler, who resigned to spend more time developing and scouting young players at the club level.
Pacheco won her coaching debut, a 5-3 victory over Benson.
The assistant coaching ranks are also intriguing among the teams involved in the Dorado Classic.
Former Arizona ace Taylor McQuillin is the pitching coach for Ironwood Ridge coach David Martinez and former Wildcat baseball and MLB player Colin Porter is part of Kelly Fowler’s staff at CDO. Porter’s daughter Isabella is a senior with the Dorados.
McQuillin, who helped pitch Arizona to the 2019 Women’s College World Series, was asked by Martinez to assist with his pitchers in August before she left to play professionally for Athletes Unlimited.
“He asked if I would be interested in helping out and I was really excited because it’s close to where I live now and I was like, ‘Of course,’ to build the resume and get my feet wet in another softball endeavor,” McQuillin said. “It sounded really exciting. When I got the call from him, I went through all the paperwork and did all that fun stuff.
“I’ve been with the team almost three months now.”
Arizona has a history of recruiting Ironwood Ridge standouts with Allie Skaggs, Devyn Netz and Izzy Pacho on its current roster.
Here are interviews with four of the new head coaches in Southern Arizona:
TRICIA SZTAN, SALPOINTE
Sztan won a state title at Salpointe in 1993 when Stacy Iveson coached the Lancer program. She served as an assistant with Baray-Rocha the last two seasons.
CHACHO MORALES, TUCSON
Morales played for Sunnyside’s successful baseball teams along with the likes of Erik Torres, Omar Moraga and Diego Rico, all of whom went on to play at Arizona.
CYNDI CUBILLAS, SABINO
Cubillas has an extensive background of coaching and developing talent when she was a coach with the AZ Cats program. She also has a coaching background with Arizona Western College and Adams State. Among her assistants is Ena Madrid, a former Amphi and Pima standout who considers Cubillas a mentor having played for her when she was a club-ball player.
AMY PACHECO, SAHUARO
Sahuaro athletic director Steve Botkin said of Pacheco’s hire: “She will be amazing. She is an alumni who understands the tradition of Sahuaro softball. She played Division I softball and brings her passion of love of the game back to us. I am excited to watch her do great things.” Pacheco, 25, is taking on a program that has a history of eight state championships, including six under the legendary Billy Lopez (last one occurring in 2001).
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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. He became an educator five years ago and is presently a special education teacher at Gallego Fine Arts Intermediate in the Sunnyside Unified School District.