Tucson, AZ (KOLD) – It's more of a mental thing.
That's how Taylor McQuillin describes her love of puzzles. She enjoys the satisfaction of bringing together all the little pieces and forming a cohesive whole. It doesn't matter how difficult it may look, whether the puzzle is a hundred pieces or a thousand pieces. Taylor knows every one of them has its place. She knows if she works at it enough, is patient enough, she'll figure it out and, when she's finished, she'll see the fruit of her labor.
"It's really calming to me," she said. "It's weird because putting puzzles together can drive the heck out of someone else but, to me, I can just sit there and twist it and do it all day."
Her strategy seems simple.
"I usually do the outside first. I find all the edge pieces, connect them and then work from the outside in."
After that, it's game on.
"Once I get to the inside, I don't have a strategy."
It was her Grandmother Mary, a lover of puzzles herself, who first introduced McQuillin to the hobby. Mary bought her grandchildren puzzles for Christmas. During summers while her parents worked, McQuillin would sit with Mary and exercise her mind.
"She always wanted us to be active," she said. "Have our brains turned on at all times instead of just sitting in front of a couch watching television."
It was more than that, though. It was an emotional experience.
"Even though she was older and I was younger, that was our connection. I guess you could say that puzzles were that piece of unity that put me and my grandmother together. There's always things to puzzles that I can reminisce about from the past."
Puzzles give McQuillin an opportunity to work both the creative and analytical sides of her brain. In that regard, it's similar to how she feels when looking at an opposing lineup. And, for the Wildcat sophomore pitcher, there is a distinct relationship.
"It's kind of a puzzle when you work with batters," said McQuillin. "The way you set a batter up. The approach they have has a huge impact on how you're going to pitch to them.
Start with the outside first. Set up your game plan. Work outside-in.
"But you also want to pitch your game at the same time."
Once you get to the inside, be ready to improvise.
"It's like, okay, I'm going to pitch this sequence to this batter because that's what I'm feeling in my head," said McQuillin. "It correlates to puzzles because I'll just take pieces and think, oh that could go there or this piece could fit here. It's your mind always working. That's one of the best things about pitching. You're never shut off from the game because your mind is constantly working. Even when you're in the dugout and your team is up to bat, you're still sitting there working, watching the count. A pitcher's always mentally in the game. I think that's what I enjoy most about it."
As for the rest of the Wildcat softball team, it appears the puzzle pieces are fitting together nicely. But it's easy to be excited when a game has yet to be played. Still, with the return of pitchers McQuillin and star Danielle O'Toole, the bats of Katiyana Mauga and Mo Mercado, and the additions of Alyssa Palomino (fully healthy after tearing her ACL last season) and newcomers like catcher Dejah Mulipola, Arizona surely has the ability to at least get back to a Super Regional.
"I'm really excited for the season," said McQuillin. "I think it's going to be a good year. And I think that our team goals as well as everyone's individual goals will rise to our expectations."
Game one of a fifty-five game regular season begins Thursday. Fifty-five individual puzzle pieces that, if put together correctly, could form a very pretty picture.
For Taylor McQuillin, puzzler extraordinaire, she's looking forward to the challenge.
Arizona hosts Fordham in the Hillenbrand Invitational Thursday, February 9th. First pitch is 6:00pm.