I couldn’t think of a better way to follow-up my coaching series (which featured insights from a baseball coach, a soccer coach, a basketball coach, and a volleyball coach) than to share recent and upcoming experiences that are connected to my former softball coach and teammates at Creighton University.
I had the privilege of providing color commentary for the Creighton University vs. DePaul University final regular season conference softball game on Mother’s Day.
It was a memorable experience that I won’t soon forget.
Although my focus was obviously on the game at hand (unfortunately, the Bluejays lost 2-0 to the Big East regular season champion Blue Demons), I couldn’t keep my mind from drifting to the six C.U. seniors, particularly in the bottom half of the seventh inning of that game, who I knew were three outs away from seeing their collegiate playing days come to an end.
I remember what it was like to have to say goodbye to my coach and fellow teammates after they had influenced my life in a way that is indescribable with mere words.
There were five of us in the class of 1999 (self-nicknamed the Fab Five) who competed and grew up together for four years. We each entered into college as All-Stars from our respective teams, had our butts collectively handed to us as underclassmen, learned to elevate our game as we matured, and progressively raised our squad’s performance until we left the field as conference champs.
We won, lost, bickered, supported, belly ached, belly laughed, and most importantly believed in each other. As a result, we found a way under Coach Brent Vigness’s leadership, to improve year-after-year before recording our final out against the eventual College World Series Champion UCLA Bruins softball team in the NCAA Regionals.
Over the past 17 years, the Fab Five have grown up. We’ve returned to our home cities, married our spouses, started our careers and our families, have celebrated triumphs, and endured losses.
Sadly, the recent loss of a teammate’s mom prompted my reunion with these wonderful women this weekend. Val and her mom, Sandy, are pictured above in the photo of me jumping on my coach. Sandy passed away on April 26, 2016.
Isn’t that how life tends to work? It doesn’t wait around patiently for you to make the time to prioritize people. It slaps you in the face with a wake-up call when you’re least expecting it.
I am counting down the hours before I can see my teammates again and scream out their names in gratitude for the chance to hang out for a few days. I have missed past opportunities to get together…and I know I won’t be able to fly across the county at my every whim in the future…but THIS TIME, well THIS TIME I’m making it work.
Life has moved on with or without our permission. Loss will bring us together again. Love and laughter will remind us how much we mean to one another, even after all these years.
Every athlete will remember the memories made with their teammates over everything else. Crossing the figurative finish line is something to be proud of, but stories are told from one generation to the next about enduring the race itself.
Lastly, before I forget, yesterday marked the 25th anniversary of the longest game in NCAA softball history: a 31-inning epic battle between Creighton and Utah. Even crazier than that, both teams turned around after a 20-minute break to play the third longest game in NCAA history – 25 additional innings. These doubleheader games took place in 1991, while I was still an overly confident high school player. 🙂
Thanks for allowing me to take a trip down memory lane.
Creighton Softball Timeline in the late 90s
1999: Earned an NCAA Regional Appearance; lost to eventual National Champions UCLA Bruins in tournament elimination game
1999: 11-3 MVC* record. Repeated as Regular-Season Conference Champs and won MVC Conference Tournament (31-28 overall record)
1998: Head Coach Brent Vigness earned MVC Coach of the Year Honors
1998: 16-2 MVC record. Won the first Regular-Season Conference Championship in Program History (33-15 overall record)
1997: 10-4 MVC record (32-30 overall record)
1996: 6-12 MVC record (17-24 overall record)
*Creighton moved from the Missouri Valley Conference (MVC) to the Big East Conference in the 2013-2014 season.
Written by Heidi Woodard
Relationships, even above learning structure, discipline, and commitment, relationships are the best reason to participate in youth, prep, and collegiate sports. You/this embodies that. Thank you for sharing, and thank your providing the added perspective of those long games. Amazing…
As a player who excelled at softball all the way up through club ball, and high school, made a college team, and then abruptly failed to secure a consistent starting position on that team, I can tell you I didn’t stick around on the bench of that college team for love of the game. Love of the game wears off really fast when you work like a dog day in and day out but rarely actually play *in a game*. I stuck around on the bench and worked like a dog day in and day out for the love of my teammates. The people I shared my life with for those extremely formative years were some of the best people I’ve ever known and I was proud and grateful to call them teammates and friends. Their influence on me and experiences we shared shaped an important part of my life, and although my playing days didn’t end the way I planned… I didn’t get to experience a senior day or know in advance that when I stood on the field at the end of our loss in the Finals of the National Championship Tournament that it would turn out to be the last time I would ever wear a softball uniform… I would not trade those years of college softball (or any years of softball) for anything. I am so glad you are getting a chance…making the time to see your teammates again. What a gift that will be! Enjoy every minute of it! #MonkeyHug