Editor’s note: The Star’s Zack Rosenblatt is counting down the 50 best athletes on the University of Arizona campus right now, with help from athletes, coaches and those close to the program.
No. 19: Dejah Mulipola
The details: Mulipola is 5-foot-8 catcher heading into her sophomore season with the Arizona softball team. Mulipola recently played for the USA Junior Women’s National Team, along with UA infielder Jessie Harper, at the World Cup of Softball and was selected to play for the team at next week’s Junior Women’s World Championship in Clearwater, Florida. Mulipola came to Arizona from Pacifica High School in Garden Grove, California, where she was one of the highest-rated recruits in the nation in the 2017 class, ranked No. 5 overall by FloSoftball. Mulipola had offers from pretty much every blue-blood program — including Florida, Oklahoma, Michigan and UCLA — but chose the Wildcats for the usual reason — longtime Arizona coach Mike Candrea.
“Coach. It was coach,” Mulipola said last season. “That’s everyone’s reason. He was my main reason to come here. I fell in love with the school, the program, the coaching staff — that was all key.”
The numbers: Mulipola started her UA career off nicely, finishing second on the team with 54 runs scored — sixth-best in the Pac-12 — to go with a .335 batting average, 12 home runs, 49 RBIs, 12 doubles and three triples. On the defensive side, Mulipola finished with a .995 fielding percentage with only two passed balls.
The value: Arizona is losing some of its best hitters from last season’s Pac-12 title-winning team, namely third baseman Katiyana Mauga, shortstop Mo Mercado and outfielder Mandie Perez. The Wildcats’ transition to life without them, though, will be made easier with Mulipola returning after a standout freshman season. Beyond the hitting aspect, Mulipola quickly established herself as a talented game manager and defensive player at catcher, which will be particularly important with a young pitching staff. Danielle O’Toole is gone, as are Nancy Bowling and Michelle Floyd, leaving the Wildcats with Taylor McQuillin, a junior, and two true freshmen in Taylor Gilmore and Hannah Bowen. Though Mulipola had just one year to work with O’Toole, that worked out just fine.
“She’s the best catcher I’ve thrown to,” O’Toole said during the postseason. “It’s hard to beat her. I told her she’s getting better at reading my mind. It takes a long time to do that with somebody.”
Why Mulipola? Mulipola burst out of the gates as a freshman, leading the Wildcats in hitting for a couple weeks before cooling down.
Even so, Mulipola proved why she was rated so highly coming out of high school, and the difficulties that usually come with transitioning from high school to college didn’t seem to affect her. Mulipola is looking at a likely four-year career as Arizona’s starting catcher, and with continued improvement she has legitimate All-American potential.
“When it’s go-time she’s going to play,” McQuillin said. “She doesn’t let her emotions get to her, and that makes her the great player she is.
“I think she did a great job handling pressure, and the next few years she has left she’s going to branch out and become the player she’s supposed to be at the collegiate level. She’s going to keep doing big things.”
Proof she’s good: Her selection to the Junior Women’s National Team is evidence of how highly she’s thought of around college softball, and she flashed star potential at times in her freshman season at Arizona.
In just the second week of the season, she had already won Pac-12 Freshman of the Week and started the season with a team-best .567 average in the first 15 games, all wins. In that stretch, she also hit five home runs, 21 RBIs and scored 24 runs.
What Mulipola can accomplish: Mulipola was surprisingly held off of the Pac-12’s three All-Pac-12 teams last season, though was an All-Freshman selection. Next season, she’s a good bet for an All-Conference selection and, with increased run-producing responsibilities and a season under her belt, has legitimate All-America potential if her numbers take a leap to the next level.
Coachspeak: Mulipola has “emotional stability. She doesn’t get too high, doesn’t get too low. She’s played the game at a high level so she’s been there before, but I think she stays in the present moment really well.” — Candrea
She said it: “As a freshman coming in, it’s just about finding myself as well as trying to get to know the team. You don’t know what to expect or what’s going to happen, but it’s about staying true to who you, the player, are and just getting better.” — Mulipola last season about the adjustment to college