College Softball Has Come A Long Ways Since 1982 Written By Bill Plummer
If you have wondered how far college softball has come since 1982, all you had to do was to check the results of the Los Angeles Super Regional matching 11-time national champion UCLA against Kentucky.
In years past UCLA would have been the overwhelming favorite to win this Super Regional. But college softball has changed considerably in the past two decades and the competitive level throughout the country is balanced as more and more teams get better and better. Kentucky is one of them.
The Wildcats were appearing in their third Super Regional, but had never won one to make the long-awaited trip to OKC to participate in their inaugural WCWS. But they will this year after taking two games from No.3 UCLA on Sunday behind the impressive pitching of Kelsey Nunley. She hurled 14 innings as the Wildcats continue its best season in program history. After losing the opening game, the Wildcats won 7-1 and 7-3 to seal their trip to OKC. The Wildcats will play sixth-seeded Louisiana-Lafayette in the opening round of the event at 7 p.m. (ET) Thursday.
“This is a special day for us,” UK head coach Rachel Lawson said. “We're going into a place that we've never been before, I feel really excited. It's a dream come true for all the girls on our team and our staff, we've worked incredibly hard. This particular senior class, this is our third Super Regional, so we've been close enough to taste it, but for it to actually be a reality is very special. For it to happen on such a storied softball field, where college softball was pretty much invented. It feels pretty good that we're advancing to Oklahoma City.”
College softball wasn't invented in Los Angeles of course, but you get the meaning of Lawson's quote. UCLA has played a major role in the development of college softball, having won the first WCWS under the auspices of the NCAA in 1982. In contrast the Kentucky softball program didn't start until 1997 and that was a miserable season for the Wildcats, winning only 10 of 44 games and having 11 losing seasons.
The Kentucky softball fortunes changed when Lawson arrived in July of 2007. Along with the continued support of the administration at UK, including building a $9.5 million softball stadium, the Wildcats got better players and continued to progress, and this year's Super Regional triumph over the favored Bruins was a culmination of all those years of hard work by Lawson and her staff and the players now and in the past who played Kentucky softball. Lawson and Co. made sure the beautiful stadium had a sparkling first season as UK earned the No. 12 national seed in the 2013 NCAA Tournament – the school's first-ever national seed – and hosted a NCAA Regional for the first time ever. The stadium also hosted the 2013 SEC Tournament and broke the overall attendance record for the tournament as more than 12,000 fans entered through the gates of John Cropp Stadium that weekend.
While the Wildcats will be excited to journey to OKC and experience a truly outstanding event that only gets better and better, UCLA had to swallow a bitter pill that is something the Bruins are not happy about, especially because this is the fourth year in a row the Bruins have failed to qualify for OKC or since it won its last national title in 2010. Eight-time national champion Arizona finished behind UCLA in 2010 and of course also missed qualifying for the Big Dance in OKC. Between them the two schools have won 19 national softball titles, but fans of both schools are wondering when will either school win its next national softball title.
Bill Plummer A 1973 graduate of Indiana University, Ind. Bill has been involved in softball for more than five decades. For 30 years he was a fixture at the ASA National Office in Oklahoma City as a communications coordinator, manager of the ASA National Softball Hall of Fame and historian.
In addition, he also served as the editor of the ASA official newsletter, The Inside Pitch, and as the Trade Show manager. He has written widely about the sport and has contributed to 14 books. In 2008, he authored “The Game America Plays.” In 2012, he co-authored “Best of the Best-Women’s Fastpitch.” In 2013 he co-authored “A Series Of Their Own”. Visit his website at PlummerSoftball.com.
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