All it takes is 30 seconds with Flying Dutchwomen softball coach Bill Edwards to realize he’s not kidding when he declares he has tunnel vision.
“We really haven’t talked much about anything from last year to this year,” Edwards said Monday in response to a question about whether or not the Dutchwomen used last season—when Hofstra’s streak of 11 straight conference championships and six consecutive NCAA Tournament appearances was snapped—as motivation this season. “I know they have. It was like the first week, we said ‘Let’s see if we can…’”
Edwards paused. “I forget the word that we used.”
Then he looked towards the bullpen. “Hey what was the word that we used early on?”
“What word?” sophomore catcher Courtney Crews said. “Kick butt? Awesome?”
“No,” Edwards said. “Regroup or reclaim or what was…”
“Re-establish,” piped up another player who was walking out of Hofstra Softball Stadium.
“Re-establish,” Edwards repeated. “We just mentioned it once.”
Once turned out to be more than enough for the Dutchwomen, who returned to the top of the CAA in resounding fashion. Hofstra, which lost six starters from last year’s team—including three-time CAA Pitcher of the Year Kayleigh Lotti—opened the season on an eight-game winning streak and won its first 11 conference games on its way to an 18-2 CAA finish.
The Dutchwomen mounted a dramatic seventh inning comeback—capped by Jess Hirschbuhl’s game-winning grand slam—against Towson in the first game of the CAA Tournament last week and outscored James Madison and Georgia State 11-1 in winning the final two games and the automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. Freshman pitcher Olivia Galati threw a no-hitter in the title game win over Georgia State, the first no-hitter in the history of the CAA Tournament.
The Dutchwomen did all this with four freshmen or sophomores in the everyday lineup as well as a sophomore, Erin Wade, as the no. 2 pitcher behind Galati. “All of our young players bought into what the seniors were selling, bought into what the coaching philosophy is and what Hofstra’s softball philosophy is,” Edwards said. “So when you have everyone buying into the same thing and everybody working toward that common goal of re-establishing ourselves, it was great.”
The Dutchwomen begin play in the NCAA Tournament tonight at the University of Arizona, where they take on Oklahoma State at 7 p.m. in the first game of the double-elimination regional. And while the goal is the program’s first trip to the College World Series, the Dutchwomen know, regardless of how they fare, that the rest of the CAA realizes Hofstra is back where it belongs.
“We brought the tradition back to Hofstra and we’re going to keep that tradition going,” said outfielder Kris Root, who is part of a senior class that never lost a CAA series. “I think we took care of our business by leaving no doubt to anyone that we were the best team in the conference, and I think that by us doing that, we showed them that we deserved to win it and we will keep winning it.”
Winning conference titles is just about all Edwards has done at Hofstra since he arrived in 1990. Sports come (neither women’s soccer nor women’s golf existed when Edwards arrived) and sports go (football was a Division III powerhouse in 1990). Coaches come and coaches go: There have been 45 coaching changes and three athletic directors at Hofstra since Edwards stepped foot on campus and the only coach at Hofstra who predates Edwards is men’s soccer coach Richard Nuttall, who took over in 1989.
Through it all there has been Edwards, who was inducted into the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Fame last December, and a dominant softball team. The Dutchwomen have won their conference’s regular season or tournament title in each of the last 19 seasons, a streak that encompasses four conferences (the ECC, ECAC, NAC/America East and the CAA). The youngest player on this year’s team, Tessa Ziemba, was nine months old when Hofstra’s championship streak started in the spring of 1992.
Hofstra also won 11 straight conference tournaments—a Division I softball record—before the Dutchwomen sputtered last spring and didn’t record a victory in the CAA Tournament.
The success of Edwards and the softball team is particularly noticeable at the end of what has been a trying school year for Hofstra sports. But Edwards doesn’t think about what the softball team means in the context of a nine-month period in which football was extinguished and three different men had the title of head basketball coach.
“I just come to work everyday and do my job—I don’t think about any of that,” Edwards said. “I just worry about my own little team and my 18 young ladies that I’m in charge of and I don’t think about anything other than doing the best that I can do.
“I don’t worry about anything. I’m very tunnel-visioned, very much concerned only about my team and what I have to do to have them have the success that they deserve.”
Edwards has instilled into the Dutchwomen a similar focus and a belief that no game—not even an NCAA Tournament game—is any bigger than the last. “It’s not necessarily about playing the perfect game, it’s not necessarily about getting hyped up,” Root said. “It’s about staying calm and playing it like it’s any other game. Because if you make it more than that, that’s when you mess up.”
“Just another game on just another field,” Edwards said. “Every game we play, it’s just another game. We come to the ballpark to have a good time, to play softball.”
Then, with a grin, he added: “It’s like that great line in The Rookie: ‘You know what we get to do today? We get to play baseball.’ Well, you know what we get to do today? We get to play softball.
“So I don’t care if we’re playing in Arizona or playing here at Hofstra or if we’re playing Iona up there. Wherever we’re playing, it doesn’t make a difference. What we get to do today is we get to play and we get to play at a very high level.”