Cactus softball coach Bartt Underwood was ready to call it a career in January.
Underwood, inducted into the Arizona HS Athletic Coaches Hall of fame in 2017, took a week to think about it. He decided to coach the 2021 season, his 10th at Cactus and 29th overall.
And he's glad he did. Underwood resigned from the job this week and said he plans to retire from being a high school head coach.
"Last year when COVID hit I had such a good group of girls and it was taken away from them. And I know a lot of coaches felt the same way. I did think about quitting then," Underwood said May 21. "I started to think about it in January and realized these girls missed a year because of COVID too. And I was going to leave a couple months before their season."
The 2021 Cactus team did not sport a loaded batting lineup from top to bottom like the 2016, 2018 and 2019 state finalists. For the second straight year the Cobras did not have a stud freshman that made an immediate impact at the plate or in the field - unlike every Underwood team from 2012-2019.
Cactus started 2-2 but the less experienced Cobras improved as the season went on and the leadership of seniors Hannah DiFabio and Bub Feringa and juniors Janessa Escobar forged this group into a 4A contender late.
Cactus beat 6A runner-up Mesa Red Mountain 4-3 and then-undefeated Cottonwood Mingus 8-0 and won its eighth straight region title. The Cobras got a tough playoff draw and lost to another perennial powerhouse, Tucson Canyon del Oro, in the second round.
The team improved as the season went on and finished 17-4. Underwood said he enjoyed watching it grow and working to improve more players who aren't full-time club softball stars.
"That's what coaches are supposed to do," Underwood said.
There may have been a brief thought of coaching one more varsity season to make it an even 30 and finishing it with the Cactus class of 2022.
But Underwood also realized it was time, as he's slowly been coaching and organizing less in recent years. He said he has not coached club softball in six years and Cactus has not fielded a freshman team in six years.
"You're going to leave some players behind whenever you step away," Underwood said.
He finishes with a career record of 640-233-8 - 415-157-8 at Centennial and 225-76 at Cactus.
He said he wants to be able to travel more with his wife. And he want to help his daughter Tayloe (Haegle) some of the time at Deer Valley.
Taylor Haegle just finished her second year, but first full season, as the Skyhawks' coach. Underwood said he's thinking about helping her with some hitting drills but does not want to commit to even being an assistant coach.
"I should still do this for my daughter when I'm able to. That wasn't the No. 1 reason but it is something I would like to do," Underwood said.
He'll also had more time to golf.
"Every Tuesday I golf with retired coaches and firefighters. I'm the younger guy," Underwood said. "Back in 2016 when Cactus made the title game they asked, 'Are you going to retire now.' Every year they asked me why I kept doing this.
Underwood leaves thankful that he got a second coaching career at Cactus. He coached Centennial's first 19 varsity teams, reaching five state title games and leading what is still the program's only state champions in 2010.
That also was his last year coaching at Centennial. After sitting out 2011 to watch Taylor's final year of high school, he said he interviewed for five jobs and had help from an old rival in getting to Cactus.
Former Cobras softball coach Bill Sorenson was stepping down to become the school's athletic director. Jeff Griffith, the state Hall of Fame coach whose Cobras just squeaked by Underwood's Coytote teams in epic 4A state finals in 2003 and 2004, helped seal the deal.
"It was pretty awesome. I had just interviewed at Cactus and was leaving the office. Griff says to the staff, 'There he is.' I asked him what it was about and he said, 'They just asked me if I knew anyone who wanted to coach this program."
Griffith came back to Cobras softball as Underwood's assistant. While Underwood at one time envisioned finishing his coaching career at Centennial, he said he now can't imagine what his life would be like without knowing the people he met in the last decade in Cactus.
People like Dan Renyer. Even after his daughters, Kali and Morgan, graduated Renyer pored time, energy and funding into the program until he died from a heart attack in 2018.
Underwood he hopes to come back to the Cactus softball field some day for a ceremony honoring Renyer with his name on the scoreboard or somewhere else prominent on the field.
He came back to Centennial's field this year for the first time in the decade since Taylor graduated. Longtime Centennial volleyball coach Cari Bauer organized a memorial ceremony for former Coyotes all-state player Ashlie Rosenberg (Mumma) and asked her coach to speak.
While it might have provided a bit of closure for Underwood, he's also glad to have two schools full of fond memories.
"I had 10 great years at Cactus with great girls, assistant coaches, parents and administrators. I don't ever regret taking that job," Underwood said.