CATHEDRAL CITY, Calif. -- An exhibition game against National Pro Fastpitch's USSSA Pride gave California Baptist University freshman Jordan Mowatt the opportunity of a softball lifetime. Still in the opening weeks of her college career at the Division II school, she shared an outfield for seven innings with one of the best who ever played the sport.
"Caitlin Lowe is actually probably one of my idols in softball," Mowatt gushed of the Pride center fielder and former Olympian.
Word of the endorsement later drew a chuckle from the object of such adoration.
"She's probably just saying that because she doesn't want Taryne's head to get that big," Lowe countered.
That would be Taryne Mowatt, one of Lowe's friends and a former teammate at the University of Arizona, where together they won back-to-back national championships in 2006 and 2007. Taryne would be Jordan's older sister and a second-year assistant softball coach for California Baptist who called pitches from the dugout against the Pride.
"Everyone gets very surprised if I don't say my sister," Jordan added in regard to her softball idol.
There are plenty of sister acts in college softball -- twin sisters Kate and Caryl Drohan coached the Northwestern team Arizona beat in the 2006 championship series, and Lowe played against her younger sister in that same Women's College World Series, to name just two examples. But it's safe to say Cal Baptist has the only former ESPY winner (Best Female Athlete and Best Female College Athlete in 2007) currently coaching a younger sibling.
Rather than separated by one sister's shadow, Taryne and Jordan are literally closer than ever.
When the former California Baptist coach moved to Division I McNeese State two years ago, the ensuing shuffling opened a position on newly promoted head coach Bill Baber's staff. Already set on attending the school and playing softball for the Lancers, Jordan picked up the phone and lobbied Taryne, then coming off an NPF season, to go for the assistant's job. If at first the idea was a bit of a joke, the younger sister quickly grew attached to it.
"It took a little bit of begging," Jordan said.
But the arm that pitched Arizona to a title didn't need all that much twisting. Taryne's time in Tucson and subsequent professional stints in both the United States and Europe meant she missed much of her sister's softball exploits back home. The opportunity to not only see Jordan play regularly in college but be a part of that experience on a daily basis (the two live together in Riverside, Calif., where the school is located) was too good to pass up.
If she hesitated, it may only have been because the idea caught her off guard.
"I was surprised that she would want me to coach her because I know in years back it was hard for her to find her spot in the softball world because I was the older sister," Taryne said. "But I think once she realized that we're completely different positions -- she's a small, lefty slapper that plays outfield, I'm a bigger girl that pitches, so I think once she got into that mindset, she was like, 'Yeah, that would be fun to have my sister around all the time.'"
Jordan is just getting her feet under her at the college level, although she claimed a starting job in time for the season opener and started each of the team's first 13 games. And in a way, the two sisters have never been on more even footing. Taryne long thought coaching was somewhere in her future, just not quite so immediate a future for someone still more than six months shy of her 27th birthday. She, too, is just figuring out how to do this.
Unlike Alicia Hollowell, the championship ace she succeeded at Arizona who is now an assistant coach at their alma mater, Mowatt did not have the demeanor of a coach-in-waiting during her college days. She was the antithesis of the typical All-American ace. She was diminutive where the Hollowells, Monica Abbotts and Keilani Ricketts tower over opponents. She was Type-B where so many of her peers in the circle were Type-A perfectionists. Arizona coach Mike Candrea didn't peg her as a future coach. He figured someone as at ease with the camera as Mowatt always was would end up in television.
"You really don't know how serious they are when they're playing," Candrea said. "Once in a while you run into a kid and you go, 'God, she's going to coach somewhere down the road.' But for the most part, 99 percent of them, you really don't know until they get out of school, they miss the game and decide what their career paths are going to be."
The elder Mowatt will always be remembered for the week she put together in the 2007 Women's College World Series. There is, after all, a reason she's the only softball player to win the ESPY for Best Female Athlete. She threw every inning that week for Arizona, which had to come through the loser's bracket after a 1-0 defeat against Tennessee's Monica Abbott early in bracket play and had to rally from a game down in the best-of-three championship series against those same Lady Vols and Abbott. It required more than a thousand pitches in all; many were the trademark changeup that helped a pitcher smaller than most college aces dominate batters.
"I remember being very tired," Taryne said. "As I get older, every minute detail starts to fade -- my dad reminds me of the things I can't remember. But I just look back at it and I think that was so fun, and I wish everyone could experience something similar to that, winning a championship, being part of a team, the team chemistry."
It isn't an opportunity everyone gets. Nor is the one she has now. She isn't sure if she's in the coaching business for life, or even if she's done playing in the NPF, but she will be at Cal Baptist for at least the next four years.
Playing a team full of former All-Americans and Olympians, the Lancers acquitted themselves surprisingly well in defeat in Cathedral City. One play in particular stood out from the player wearing No. 9, Taryne's old number.
"I was very impressed with her gun," Lowe said of an outfield throw Jordan made. "That throw home, I told Taryne, 'You know what, I didn't expect that from her; she's so small.'"
The observation drew a reproachful look from her friend, the one who struck out more batters in one year than any pitcher in the history of the Women's College World Series.
"Really?" Taryne asked. "Coming from the same mold here."