Meet The New Coaches Leading Two Of Softball's Top Programs
To play in the Women’s College World Series means teams not only have to have the best players, but also the best coaches. In 2021, it’s arguable that some of the best coaches in the history of softball were at USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium to compete for a national title.
While not favored to win the WCWS, Georgia and Arizona were coached by two of the most well-respected coaches in the game in 2021. But Lu Harris-Champer for the Bulldogs and Mike Candrea for the Wildcats both announced their respective retirements from coaching at the season's end, leaving vacancies that had long been filled.
Soon after their retirements, Arizona named longtime assistant Caitlin Lowe its new head coach and Georgia named Tony Baldwin its new skipper. Below, we took some time to dig into their histories in college softball.
Ever since she was 18, Lowe’s life has revolved around the Wildcats and their softball program. She was a four-year starter in center field and holds some of the most important credentials a player can in the sport.
She was a four-time All-American and a two-time national champion in 2006 and 2007. Lowe’s name is across the Arizona record books and she is one of the most decorated players in the history of the game. She played for Candrea both at Arizona and on the 2008 U.S Olympic team, with whom she captured a silver medal.
After Arizona, Lowe played professionally with the USSSA Pride and joined Candrea's coaching staff.
“I loved softball so much and it was hard for me to let go of the playing side of it,” Lowe said. “(Candrea) offered me the volunteer coach position the next year … that was when I realized I had found what I was passionate about.”
After that, Lowe knew her path and it was coaching. In 2015, she became a full member of the coaching staff and since then, the Wildcats have made super regionals every season and back-to-back WCWS appearances.
“I’m very focused, passionate, intense on the field,” Lowe said. “I like the fundamentals … I truly believe that if you practice hard and fast and more intense than any game will feel, then the games will take care of themselves.”
Lowe lives and breathes softball. She said she’s excited to get to work with the team, its recruits and the next era of Arizona softball.
“I think the culture’s a big deal,” Lowe said. “First you've got to build the culture when they get here, and then it comes down to the preparation for what comes next.”
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Promoted from within, Baldwin was named the third head coach in Georgia softball history, previously serving as the associate head coach since 2016.
“What kept me in (softball) was the passion,” Baldwin said. “The grit, the fight and just what Georgia softball’s brand was all about.”
Baldwin’s journey into softball isn’t like most, especially with Georgia. He played college baseball with Butler and then coached for 14 years. From 2006-2008, he served as an assistant coach at Michigan State, where he met softball head coach Jacquie Joseph, who put the idea of coaching softball into his mind.
“I got out of coaching and Jacquie told me that if I ever wanted to get back in, to try softball,” Baldwin said. “Then my wife and I moved to Athens, Georgia, to start a business with a couple of our friends, and years later through my kids, I bumped into Lu Harris-Champer.”
After the move to Georgia, Baldwin served as a volunteer assistant coach from 2011-12 with the softball program. In 2013, he coached at UNC for a season and developed infielders and hitters. He returned to Athens in 2014 and was promoted to associate head coach in 2016.
Working with Champer every year since 2015, Baldwin credits the success and atmosphere at Georgia to her and how he learned so much so quickly.
“I think the biggest thing I admire about (Champer) is you can be yourself,” Baldwin said. “You don’t have to try and fit yourself into some formality. Lu Harris-Champer coached softball the way Lu Harris-Champer believed it was best to be done … and I have a ton of respect for that.”
When asked about what Baldwin wants people to know about his style and personality, his answer was simple—to be a positive impact on players.
“I do what I do because once upon a time, there was a coach that had an impact on me,” Baldwin said. “(That coach) helped me find joy in a sport that had a lot of failure … When I set out on this journey some 20 years ago, I wanted to have an impact on people the way he had an impact on me.”