When J.J. Jimenez was watching the PGF Championship on TV with his daughter and the rest of the family, he told her one day you will play in that championship game. Even though she was still young in her softball career, the idea he wanted to instill was to dream big.
“I was her hitting coach. I was her fielding coach,” said Jimenez. “I would do all her skill videos.”
Even though they were just above the Mexican border, but below the softball hotspot in the Orange County and San Diego area, they were starting to put teams together with those girls from the area that were interested in improving their softball skills.
The University of Kentucky softball program is no longer a plucky underdog, capable of jumping up and surprising its opponents occasionally.
No, the Wildcats have lost that distinction. They advanced to the Women’s College World Series for the first time in 2014, have established themselves as a perennial Super Regional team and have finished second in the ridiculously competitive Southeastern Conference twice in the last four completed seasons.
For many years now, Indiana Magic Gold has been one of the top fastpitch softball club organizations in the Midwest.
But the people involved in the program are not content with that distinction. They are continuing to pursue improvements to keep moving the organization into the upper echelon of the best of the best, nationwide.
When Will Tomasello founded the Georgia Impact softball organization back in 2002, it was not about the results. It was about the process. It was about a culture.
“It wasn’t that anybody was doing anything bad, I just wanted to do it my way,” said Tomasello. When Georgia Impact – Lewis defeated the OC Batbusters – Stith in the PGF 18U National Championship game in 2018, that was in part, a result of the process and the culture instilled by the organization
The state of Tennessee was a bit of a culture shock for Karen Weekly. Having grown up in the state of Washington and playing and coaching at Pacific Lutheran University, the move east was a bit of an adjustment.
With only two teams, it was an innocent start in 2010 into the travel softball world. Brian Madden and his dad, Mike, created the Oklahoma Athletics. It has continued to grow into an up-and-coming softball organization that will have to be reckoned with.
“We didn’t ever think it was going to get as big as it is now,” said Brian Madden. “We have went from two teams to about ten teams and now, we have 37.”
Although The University of Texas softball had seen its share of success through the years, the program was becoming somewhat stale. By 2018, their season had ended in regional play each of the last five years.
The Longhorns were ready to get back to their prominence and to the Women’s College World Series. The change started with the hire of Mike White as the Head Softball Coach on June 25, 2018. White was very familiar with the Women’s College World Series, having been there five of the last seven years.
That’s as great a testament as any as to what head coach Mike Candrea has created in Tucson over the last 35 years. The bar has been set so high that seasons ending in the Super Regionals from 2014-18 had the program still yearning to take the next step and return to the Women’s College World Series despite seasons that would seem like a mere pipe dream for the majority of programs across the nation.
That tends to happen when you have a stretch like the Sooners have enjoyed over the last decade: three national championships, eight Women’s College World Series appearances, eight straight Big 12 titles and seven 50-win seasons.