Caylan Arnold grew up in Tennessee and was torn between playing softball for the nearby Volunteers or playing for Florida State. The desire to see her younger sisters grow up and be close to home won out.
But a few years later, Arnold was seeking a change. She entered the transfer portal. And hoped one school in particular would call.
“My mind was like, ‘If Florida State wants me, that’s where I want to go. I think I should have always been there,’ ” Arnold said. “And, luckily, they did want me still.”
The plan was for Arnold to step right into the pitcher’s circle and take on major innings for the Seminoles as Meghan King graduated. Even in the COVID-shortened season, Arnold showed a glimpse of what she could offer.
In 11 starts, Arnold went 5-3, tossed four complete games and had a 1.40 ERA. She had 60 strikeouts in 60 innings, and opposing batters hit just .177 against her. Arnold shut down No. 1 Alabama in the season opener, threw a season-best 11 strikeouts in a win over No. 19 Baylor and picked up a road victory over No. 21 Arkansas.
“I was having so much fun last season, I kind of had fallen back in love with the game,” Arnold said. “Coach (Lonni Alameda) really helped me find that again. And she taught me so much. I probably learned more last year than I had in any of my other years playing softball from coaches. She’s so knowledgeable. I was having a great time, really loving it.”
The season, though, was halted in mid-March. Arnold soon learned that seniors would get a second chance to come back in 2021. Along with seniors like outfielders Danny Morgan and Cassidy Davis and catcher Anna Shelnutt, Arnold jumped at the chance to return to Tallahassee.
“When they announced that I was going to get to play another season with this team, I look at it as a blessing in disguise because it’s allowed me to have two years at Florida State instead of just one,” Arnold said. “And I love that.”
Arnold has plans in the years ahead. She is a media communications major and already had the chance to write as an intern last summer for Softball America. Arnold is also set to join a podcast with D1softball.com and would like to pursue on-camera opportunities down the road.
And the Seminoles, who open the season on Friday by playing host to Memphis in the JoAnne Graf Classic, are thrilled to have Arnold as the No. 1 starter. Arnold spent the summer in Tallahassee, working on her pitches and mechanics as she looked to fine-tune for the 2021 season.
“She committed to getting in that weight room and getting stronger and doing everything she could here in Tallahassee,” Alameda said. “Her skill sets are elite. She’s a dominating pitcher in the circle. But her comfort zone now after being a transfer and having a year under a belt, it’s Florida State Seminole. It’s in her blood. She wants to really make sure that she leads this battery to the highest level she can achieve for them. So that camaraderie, that confidence, that strength for her has really led the way.”
Arnold was the SEC freshman of the year in 2017 and a year later was named to the SEC’s all-tournament team. While her numbers reinforce how good she was on the mound, Arnold admits she “didn’t have the best mechanics” and leaned on throwing hard. That changed under Alameda’s guidance.
“As simple as you can make pitching, coach (Alameda) made it that way,” Arnold said. “We worked for months and months and months just on drills like using my legs more. I was very, very reliant on my arms, I pitched more with my arms than I did my legs. And in softball, it needs to be the opposite. You need to use your legs more than you do your arms. Finally, I did and then I ended up gaining speed because I was pitching correctly.”
FSU was the pick of the ACC coaches to win the league title, and that’s understandable considering the returning talent. Among the 15 returning players are Arnold, Morgan, Shelnutt and Sydney Sherrill, D1softball.com’s ACC preseason player of the year. Alameda will underscore this is a young team, which features eight freshmen, but it’s also one that features the returning seniors, Sherrill and a deep pitching staff.
Arnold, a preseason All-ACC pick, leads a staff that also includes Kathryn Sandercock, Danielle Watson, Brianna Enter, Jeya Prasad and Emma Wilson.
“I’ve never been a part of a pitching staff that has so much talent,” Arnold said. “I just think we play off of each other really, really well. I want to help them in every way that I can. Because ultimately I want them to be successful. And I want Florida State to be successful.”
Live stream of FSU softball
The FSU softball team will play Memphis (Friday at 3 p.m.) and No. 24 Missouri (Saturday at 3 p.m.) in the JoAnne Graf Classic. Both games will stream live on ACC Network Extra.