April 25th, 2010
Cake is good, but cake with ice cream is even better. As I write this evening, I am eagerly awaiting the return of the ODAC champion women’s softball team – The EMU Royals!!!!!! We are trying to gather up students, staff and faculty to celebrate their return. Hopefully students need a break from studying for finals that begin on Tuesday. And currently they are stuck in traffic on I-81. Got to love that interstate.
We were just beginning to come down from the high the men’s basketball team took us on through the season and things were really starting to wrap up for the year, both academically and athletically. We entered tournament weekend with hopes for some good performances in the track and field meet and while the softball team qualified for the tournament, they limped their way to the end of the season losing their last four games and sliding into the eighth and final spot. Things didn’t look real hopeful.
And then an amazing thing happened in the town of Salem, VA. The softball team came to life, winning four straight games over the course of three days and captured the first ODAC team championship for EMU since women’s basketball in 2004 and the first softball championship since 1990. In the process they defeated the #1, #4, #6, and #3 teams to finish and amazing weekend of softball. It also marks the first time an EMU softball team will compete in the NCAA Tournament. In 1990, the ODAC champion did not automatically qualify for the NCAA. They open play on May 13 somewhere.
And it’s a shame that we are so close to the end of the semester and there were virtually no student, faculty or staff fans that could attend the games. I realize that softball isn’t a high profile sport like basketball is. But Coach McCurdy and these women need to be given the same kind of praise and thanks that we gave to the men’s basketball team. Their accomplishment is no less important and the things they experienced were no different, it’s just that we weren’t there to see it. The quality of play and the winning were no less special just because there weren’t 1500 screaming fans. In fact, to overcome the odds, emotions and predictions of the end of the season and to do it without the cheering fans makes their accomplishment perhaps even more special.
Sorry, but I got interrupted by the bus arriving and spending time with the players, coaches and fans who came out to greet them. It was fun to hear the details since you can only get the facts off the internet, not the emotions, nuances of the situations or the thought process behind decisions that were made. For example, Coach McCurdy made about four pitching changes during today’s championship game, including one to get the final out of the game with the bases loaded. He made the changes between just two pitchers, but each time a change was made a minimum of four players changed positions – mostly between second base, shortstop, third base and pitcher. Both pitchers agreed with the strategy and I am amazed at the focus that it took to change positions that many times and be prepared for decisions that had to be made when the ball is hit to you that would be different for the position you just left. And what about the pressure to come into pitch in the bottom of the seventh inning with the bases loaded, two outs and the tying run at the plate.
The mental part of the game is underrated. At the collegiate level, you can’t just “play the game”. You have to “think the game”. The mental toughness needed at this level is something I am continuing to try to understand. I think it is one of the more difficult adjustments freshmen athletes need to deal with in moving beyond the high school game. You need confidence(not cockiness) and focused energy(not worrying about the past or the future. I was impressed with some of the defensive plays the team made during the tournament, not so much for their athleticism but for the concentration and decision-making handling the situation.
One of the things we will be exploring this summer is what appears to be an increase in the number of women athletes who don’t continue playing after one or two years. Four year female athletes seem to be on the decline. While there may be many factors, I am wondering if this mental part of the game needed at the collegiate level has something to do with it. I’ll keep you posted.
I was planning on sharing about another special highlight of the year – the annual Athletic Honors Banquet which was held last week. But I’ll save that for another time. But check out the write-up on our webpage as well as the special link to a page dedicated to the amazing basketball season of 2009-2010. I’ll pick that up next week. Until then, may all your pitches be strikes this week.