If I would have been told before the season started that the Georgia Bulldogs would have a 12-7 record heading into the fifth week of the season, I would probably be skeptical and also a little bit worried. No doubt about it, 2013 has been a learning experience for the girls, coaching staff, the parents, as well as the fans. Since 2007, and perhaps some could argue even earlier than that, many of us Georgia Softball faithful have been spoiled on the polished, gaudy records that are so often displayed by Georgia softball teams of the past at this point in the season. But, something that is integral to remember is this: Despite the lofty records, All-American performers, notoriety, and hard-nosed style of play, no Georgia squad has ever made it past the first two rounds of the Women’s College World Series.
I hear some of your thoughts from behind my LED MacBook screen: “Wouldn’t some coaches die just to make it the WCWS? Heck, some coaching would even die to make it to a Super Regional round.”
Sure, there is no denying that making a World Series appearance, or, in Georgia’s case, two appearances, is often seen as the benchmark for success for softball programs around the country. But, there comes a point to where building a prolific tradition and standard of play can often be more pervasive and meaningful than having sporadic appearances in the post season sandwiched between mediocre seasons. Georgia fell short of the Women’s College World Series, getting beat out by Whitney Canion and the Baylor Bears in three games, in 2011 when they had one of the most feared offensive configurations in the nation all batting in a row: Schlopy, Wiggins, Goler, Razey, and Sandberg. Add in the talent and speed of Ashley Pauly, Brittany Hubbard, and the pitching of Erin Arevalo, and you have a pretty talented (to say the least) group of athletes. That team garnered a number one ranking in the polls for two weeks of the season, pounded foes all season long, and still, despite the high rankings, the eye-popping stats, and the big names…did not make an appearance in the 2011 Women’s College World Series.
My point is that it is not always about having the superstars, the high rankings, and the gaudy record early-to-midway in the season, but rather it is all about the tradition you build upon and come to respect throughout one’s career. If a player is happy, motivated, and pushes themselves to excel, then said player is going to succeed and contribute to their team’s success. A jet plane does not fly with only one or two engines running, nor does a race car speed to the finish line while running on two or three cylinders. It takes all cylinders firing at their peak to garner success and to win the “big” race, so to speak. Just because a team has proven they can win all season long, if they do not push themselves and remain firing on all cylinders in this critical swing point of the season, they will sink like a stone to the bottom of the pond. We have all witnessed teams that have had subpar regular seasons, only to turn things around and make it to the big dance in Oklahoma City come early June. The reason why these teams make it far, albeit having performed below their potential in the regular season, is because they see the whole sport of softball in a holistic manner–not as a finish line in the distance, but rather as a cohesive process that snowballs into a polished, finished product.
For instance, look at LSU’s season and results in the 2012 regular season. Heading into the fifth week of the season, the Tigers from Baton Rouge had compiled a not-so-stellar 10-7 record, had lost to the likes of Penn State and DePaul, and were being criticized all over the softball community for their horrendous offense and average talent pool. Even as the regular season rolled along, the Tigers did not impress many softball fans and managed to amass a lackluster 34-21 regular season record before heading into the SEC Tournament. But, where were the Tigers in June? That’s right: Oklahoma City.
LSU pulled it together and really started firing on all cylinders when it mattered the most. Like a phoenix from the ashes, or I suppose a tiger in this case, the girls from Baton Rouge swept the College Station Regional, knocked off Missouri in Supers, and entered OKC with nothing but smiles on their faces. Despite going 1-2 in the big event, they had made it. For some, this might not be enough, but for LSU fans and supporters, they could not have been more proud for their team and the hard work that they had put in to make it so far. LSU is not the only team who has done this in the past, but was one of the most recent examples I could think of to illustrate my point.
Headed into the fifth week of their season, the Bulldogs from Athens find themselves in an eerily similar situation. The ladies have compiled a 12-7 record, have lost to several teams that they were expected to defeat, and are receiving some of the harshest criticism in the entire college softball community. I cannot help but to muster a grin when people are already counting my Bulldogs out as a contender in the SEC, counting them out as a contender for the post season, and counting them out as competitors! In fact, it is almost a relief to have the proverbial softball target off of the backs of some of these young and inexperienced Bulldog pups! For so long, everyone wanted to crush Georgia because of how talented they were and for how they were perceived in the community of softball: tough, relentless, and proud. But, 2013 has showed a new breed of Bulldog has came to Athens to play! No denying it, the talent levels are just as high as always, the power is still there, the talent in the circle is present, and the chemistry is certainly there. But, things have not been translating on the field as well as some of the coaches and fans, including myself, thought that they would. This has truly transformed me from the kind of fan that once enjoyed watching the Bulldogs solely for the end result, into a fan who is enjoying the process of watching the girls get better half a percent each day and each time they step onto the field.
Let the doubters doubt, and let the gossipers gossip. Let the haters hate, and let the naysayers naysay. Let the critics criticize, and let the insulters be insulting. But, no matter what, never lose faith in a team based on the air that is surrounding them or based on the results they earned out of the gate. This is not only naive, but leads to an overall lack of understanding and appreciation of what this beautiful game is all about: learning, improving, and understanding to work together with a MULTITUDE of people to become a SINGLE and COHESIVE unit. In softball, as in life, it is the journey that is both the reward and the guide–not the end result.
I am so proud of this group of Dawgs for how they have been playing lately, and no matter the score of the game, the record of wins/losses, and certainly despite any glaring setbacks or obstacles, I will continue to support them and believe that they are going to make it far this season, and in seasons to come. The reward of winning something momentous and personal, is often so much better when you least expected to win it in the first place. The bats are starting to come alive, the rookie pitchers are showing flashes of brilliance, and the coaches are kicking things into overdrive and putting in long hours to strengthen this program to their liking. I cannot wait to see where these girls are in May/June, although I wouldn’t miss the weeks and months that are upcoming for the life of me! Go Dawgs!
“Success is sweet and sweeter if long delayed and gotten through many struggles and defeats. We climb to heaven most often on the ruins of our cherished plans, finding our failures were successes.” (Amos Bronson Alcott, American Poet, Teacher, and Philosopher)