The greatest compliment and biggest insult you can ever pay someone or something is to say he/she/it is underappreciated. You have to be pretty good and pretty reliable to be underappreciated—after all, an underachiever is never underappreciated.
But to under appreciate something means taking it for granted, which isn't a very nice thing to do. Reliability and consistency should be valued, not overlooked and assumed.
For the better part of 23 years now, Hofstra sports fans have taken the success of Bill Edwards and the Hofstra softball program for granted. Through four athletic directors and three conferences and two university presidents, Edwards has been the constant. The sun will rise, the sun will set and the Flying Dutchwomen will win a league championship—21 in a row and counting.
The Dutchwomen have garnered plenty of attention for that record streak, which included 11 consecutive conference tournament championships from 1998 through 2008. But GEOGRAPHICAL BIAS was supposed to mean there was a ceiling on what the Flying Dutchwomen could accomplish on a national level.
As great as the program is and as well-run as it is under Edwards' watch, there is no arguing that Hofstra, as a non-BCS school located in a cold weather region, has two strikes against it at the start of every season. Edwards does his best to prepare the Dutchwomen for May (and June?) by scheduling up in February and placing Hofstra in a variety of tournaments down south, but come the NCAA Tournament, the teams that can practice year-round and recruit from a seemingly limitless talent base will win out.
Until last weekend, anyway, when the Dutchwomen went to UCLA's Easton Stadium—the Mecca of college softball—and trailed for all of a half-inning in going 3-0 against UCLA and San Diego State and advancing to a Super Regional (the softball version of the Sweet 16) for the first time. The Dutchwomen will attempt to reach the Women's College World Series—say that over and over again—this weekend, when they visit South Florida in the best-of-three Super Regional.
Now everyone has no choice but to appreciate Edwards and the Dutchwomen have done, not just in the last couple months but in the last couple decades.
"This win today is for all the little guys, the mid-majors, the non-BCS schools that do what we do," Edwards told reporters after Sunday's regional-clinching win over San Diego State.
The Dutchwomen are the first northern-based team to reach a Super Regional since UMass in 2006. If the Dutchwomen beat South Florida twice this weekend, Hofstra will become the first non-BCS, non-warm weather school to reach the College World Series since UMass in 1998.
I am so excited by this prospect I am able to write the following sentence without vomiting (barely): If the Dutchwomen make the Women's College World Series, it will be as momentous an achievement in softball as George Mason's run to the Final Four in 2006.
(I lied. Barf.)
But this does not feel like a Cinderella run—not with one of the most successful pitchers in the country, Olivia Galati, taking the ball every single game. Galati has a nation-best 0.91 ERA, has more than 15 times as many strikeouts (363) as walks (24) and has won 31 straight starts, the second-longest streak of all-time behind, coincidentally, the streak authored San Diego State coach Kathy Van Wyk 30 years ago. "Why not us?" is a popular phrase in times like these, but this is not a case of the little team that could hoping to fell a giant with a well-placed rock fired from a slingshot.
No matter what happens this weekend, we will always have the days leading up to the Super Regional, when the small but loyal band of Hofstra sports fans—even those of us guilty of taking softball's success for granted—were united by the Dutchwomen's run.
"We have it better" is the term coined by #CAAHoops guru Mike Litos to describe the unique bond shared by the conference's basketball fans, but it applies here as well. Few outside our circle will understand why we're so worked up about this weekend, which just makes it that much better.
It is downright inspiring to see Twitter taken over by softball tweets, to trade text messages with fellow fans (my favorite remains a friend writing "I am shaking" late Sunday afternoon) and to see how the success of the Dutchwomen transcends generations and coasts. There's Charles Jenkins telling Cornelius Vines to tune in to WRHU, Mo Cassara raving about the Dutchwomen on Twitter and Facebook, former softball SID Jeremy Kniffin traveling from his California home to see the team at UCLA and Stuart Rabinowitz proclaiming he'll host a parade for the Dutchwomen if they win the College World Series. Yes. THAT Stuart Rabinowitz.
We don't get many opportunities like this, so we're going to savor—and appreciate and not take for granted—every second this weekend. And next weekend too. Yeah. I said it.