Editor’s Note: The University of California Los Angeles softball program won three consecutive National Championships from 1988 to 1990. Sue Enquist was an assistant coach at the time. Since then, the NCAA has seen teams like Arizona, Florida and now, Oklahoma win back-to-back titles but no other team has won three in a row. Enquist told BTP her side of the story when she was a coach and what she thinks could happen this year in Oklahoma City.
By Sue Enquist
That period of time is so clear in my head. Even when we were coaching that team, it was the people that were the differentiator, not the talent.
When you go back to that time, I think everyone involved knew that was an incredibly special event. The thing that was interesting about that team and those players was the insatiable thirst to get better every single week. They never were really comfortable sitting in their success.
When Sharron (Backus) and I were leading that team, it was extremely easy. We had people who were so internally motivated that the fire inside of them was burning so hot that their motivation was never waning. If anything, we had to work on, “Hey, let’s exhale. We want to peak at the right time.”
As a coach, I never did two things. I never looked at media and I never looked at the bracket. I literally just said, “Who are the shirts in the dugout?” For me, that worked.
It’s crazy to think that we won the first of three consecutive National Championships 30 years ago.
There’s a compliment in there about our sport, even though it’s been so long, and the compliment is that no one has a corner on the market in Oklahoma City.
There’s a very small community of teams that understand the concept of having the target on their back. If you’re someone who does understand history, UCLA has just had a renewal because they have become a presence in Oklahoma City and if you’re someone who doesn’t know the history then look at teams like Oklahoma and Florida.
I think what people don’t understand about these communities is that there is so much at play that you don’t know. People talk about how loose they are playing or how they look like they are having so much fun but what drives all of that? Discipline and attention to detail and understanding your priorities in a system that is very clear and nimble. You can switch tracks very quickly based on what the landscape is doing and because there is so much clarity and consistency, the team is freed up to be where their feet are.
There are very few people who carry what Patty Gasso, Tim Walton, Kelly Inouye-Perez or Mike Candrea carries. These are programs that have a legacy that’s different than any other, multiple-time champions. The little things in their system is in concert all year and allows them to play so free in Oklahoma City where, let’s face it, is rarefied air.
Every team we played had the competitiveness and the grit and the ability to have great failure recovery. In fact, it was just as great then as it is now but the difference is that there are so many of them. This isn’t a reflection of Oklahoma because they are just as capable of a three-peat, just as Florida was. The difference, is there’s a smaller margin for error.
Let’s not minimize the bracketology though. There is a system there as well. Since I’m a fan, let’s look ahead to Supers. Let’s look at UCLA and Arizona’s story but they have to get through Regionals first. Like many people, I can’t imagine being a committee member. Somewhere in the country, someone is always going to say they didn’t get it right.
I know Patty (Gasso) fairly well as a person and a professional colleague. I’m pretty familiar with how she builds her program year in and year out and they’re impressive to watch. They have all the pieces. The fact that they are in the run for this is so impressive but the margin for error is extremely small. When we jump ahead to the middle of June and we are all reflecting on the National Champion and if it were to be Oklahoma, it would be one of the biggest athletic accomplishments in the history of our sport.
The emotional efficiency and strategic nimbleness has to be at an all-time high because no one can predict what will happen in Oklahoma City and that’s why our sport has grown in such popularity. The Women’s College World Series is this magic place where great stories are told and a champion breaks out and if it were to be Oklahoma, it would be one huge story that we are going to talk about for decades to come.