For all her success on the softball field, one thing is missing for Arianna Paulson: a state championship.
With Paulson playing a huge role, the Longhorns are coming off the best two seasons in program history. They’ve gone 57-9 in reaching the Division III state semifinals the past two seasons. Now, Paulson is hoping she and her teammates can finish the job by claiming the first title in program history.
Five errors doomed the Longhorns in a 14-4 season-ending loss to Winslow last year that halted a 29-5 campaign a year after they finished 28-4 with a 7-2 loss to Phoenix Bourgade Catholic in the semifinals.
“It was exciting to get that far, but I think we could have gone further,” she said of the past two seasons. “I think in both seasons we could have played better. So I think we were proud of how far we got, but frustrated. Last year we lost to the team we had beaten previously at a tournament. So that was frustrating.”
Finishing this season on a winning note would wipe out that frustration.
“That’s definitely a goal,” Paulson said.
And she wants to do what she can to help the Longhorns reach that goal. As the team’s only senior, she’s hoping to provide any leadership she can for the team’s younger players.
“I’m always looking to improve in all areas of my play,” she said. “But I think one of the things I’m going to work on is my leadership skills and being a team player, as well as consistency in my hitting and pitching.
“As a pitcher, being a leader on the field and trying to pick up certain things is always one of my main focuses. But, being a senior, it’ll be more important than it has been in past years.”
Paulson’s ability on the field and in the classroom earned her a softball scholarship from Brigham Young University (BYU). She has a 4.09 grade point average and is the PHS salutatorian. She hasn’t decided for sure but thinks she might study exercise science with an eye on medical school. Her brother, Sterling, is a sophomore at BYU.
“I’m pretty excited,” she said. “I was officially admitted to the school last month. Everything seems like it’s coming faster and faster. So it’s getting more exciting for me as it gets closer.”
Payson head coach Kadi Tenney said BYU is getting a quality individual.
“Arianna has all the qualities that a good Division I coach is looking for in a player,” Tenney said. “Her work ethic at practice is exemplary. She shows up to improve, stays focused on the task at hand, and gives her best effort every time.”
Paulson was voted the Arizona Republic’s Small Schools Player of the Year after dominating opposing batters in one of the most impressive seasons for a high school pitcher in state history as a junior for the 29-5 Longhorns. She entered the semifinal game 16-0 in 17 appearances with a 0.86 earned run average and 174 strikeouts in 89 1/3 innings.
“She is easily one of the best pitchers that PHS has ever had. She throws six different pitches — fastball, change up, rise, curve, drop and screw — consistently well. She has good speed on her pitches, but the spin or movement that she puts on the ball is what really makes her successful. Last year her change up was her most dangerous pitch, in my opinion. She does a good job of not giving it away and she can consistently throw it for a strike.”
Paulson figures her fastball would probably be clocked somewhere in the low 60-miles-per-hour range. But she agrees that there’s more to her success in the circle than speed.
“Both control and moving the ball are things I focus on,” she said. “If you just pitch fast the ball goes a really long ways. Keeping the batters off balance is another big thing. I’ve been taught the most important thing is hitting your spots.”
Although she’s a standout pitcher, Paulson also enjoys playing other positions on the field, especially third base. “Ari understands the game very well and can competently play almost every position on the field,” Tenney said.
Although pitchers don’t generally bat in college softball, those who are good hitters usually find themselves in the batting order when they aren’t pitching. And Paulson certainly is a good hitter. She also had a monster year at the plate, hitting .648 with 12 home runs, 18 doubles, 47 RBIs and 37 runs.
“She hits the ball very well and is one of the smartest and most aggressive base runners in our division,” Tenney said.
She hopes to hit at BYU.
“I like them both, which is hard, because a lot of pitchers don’t hit when you get older,” Paulson said. “But it’s something I think I’ll do in college. I think a pretty general rule is if you hit they’ll put you in the lineup and find a spot for you on the field. So I think as long as I keep hitting I’ll keep hitting and pitching.”
But it’s not just her athletic ability that makes Paulson a real winner.
“Ari is a straight-A student and has been an active leader in clubs and student government,” Tenney said. “She is also an active member of her church and will graduate from her church’s early morning seminary program.” Although there’s a two-year difference in age, she and her sister, Arissa, a sophomore, have played softball and basketball together since they were kids.
“It’s nice because I know I can always trust her, her skill level in general,” Arianna said. “She’s a good player in sports. So that’s nice to having her on the team. And it’s always fun.”
Her family moved to Payson after her freshman year at Miamisburg High in Ohio. She played on the varsity team there as a freshman, pitching and batting in the designated hitter spot.
Although it’s a young team, Paulson believes the Longhorns (8-3 overall, 2-0 power points games) have a chance to have a memorable season with all but three starters back from a year ago. “I think we have a lot of potential for improvement and I’m excited to see how we do,” she said.