By Maren Angus
James Kerr, the author of Legacy wrote, “No one is bigger than the team and individual brilliance does not automatically lead to outstanding results. One selfish mindset will infect a collective culture.”
Duke University’s head coach Marissa Young isn’t just infecting a culture. She is creating it. With the goal of strengthening women’s athletics and increasing available scholarships to the NCAA maximum, Director of Athletics Dr. Kevin White announced the addition of softball in December 2013. Young was hired on July 29, 2015 and with 12 freshmen (five redshirt), two sophomores (one redshirt), two juniors and two grad students, the Blue Devils began building their legacy when they took the field for the first time on September 30, 2017.
It was the beginning of the next chapter and for some; it was a second chance to continue playing the game they love.
“I haven’t felt a love like that for the game in about two years,” said Raine Wilson, a sophomore transfer from James Madison University. “I don’t even know who to thank because this is surreal. I don’t know what I did to deserve this, to be here on this team, to be here playing again. I’m so thankful to have fallen in love with the game again.”
Wilson, a Virginia native, played in one game at JMU. She was a perfect 1-for-1 at the plate, drove in a run and scored one of her own but something was missing. That something was her childhood best friend who happened to be the first commit for Duke.
“Stuff like this doesn’t really happen,” said Peyton St. George about the possibility of Wilson transferring. “She’s part of the reason why I’m the player and person I am today. Not many people get the chance to play college softball with their best friend.”
When Duke announced its softball program, St. George was looking at small Virginia schools and hadn’t even thought of playing at a Power Five program. She waited until her junior year of high school to commit which is a rare occurrence these days in college softball.
St. George and Wilson’s friendship is just one unique attribute to the newly formed program. Grad transfer Jill Ferraro adds experience in the Atlantic Coast Conference and rivalry. In May, Ferraro graduated from the University of North Carolina and hasn’t played softball since 2016.
“I didn’t really think I wanted to play again,” said Ferraro. “I spent a lot of time working with Coach Young when she was at UNC and I wanted to further my academic experience and I knew it would be a great experience playing for her. Being a part of the first team is a bonus.”
While in Chapel Hill, Ferraro was a catcher. In Durham, she is learning how to play the outfield, a position she hasn’t played since she was a child.
“I’m trying to find a place where I can help the team the most,” said Ferraro. “It’s a lot of fun and makes you love the game. It makes you go back to when you enjoyed catching fly balls and it’s just fun. I’m just trying not to let ball drop.”
The selflessness of everyone on the roster has given Young the ability to mix up the lineup and move players around.
“We are a great blend and melting pot. For so many of these young women, Duke is their second chance at life with softball.”
Creating a Legacy
The definition of legacy can be one of two things. It can be a gift or something transmitted by or received from an ancestor or predecessor of the past.
“We talk about the type of legacy we want to leave behind as a team. How can we not?” said Wilson. Not only am I going to try to make my family proud, my hometown proud. What I’m playing for are the girls five years from now, the girls 10 years from now, the girls 15 years now.”
Delaney Glover is one of those girls who could be a Blue Devil six years from now. The 12-year-old pitcher thanked Young after the game for starting the program and giving her a chance to hopefully be a Blue Devil one day.
“I’m pretty excited to see how they do this season,” said Glover. “I think the good thing about (having a college team to watch) is what we can learn from them.”
Mark Massey brought his daughter to the game and is looking forward to spending more time at the ballpark.
“We wouldn’t miss this for nothing,” he said. “This facility is amazing. We went to the ACC Tournament last year at Carolina but to see this team actually on the field now is awesome.”
A Game of Firsts
After 1,384 days, the inaugural game for Duke softball was something to remember. The weather was perfect and the crowd was electric. Attendance was announced at 1,300-plus for the historical day. It may have been a fall exhibition game but it didn’t seem that way.
It was great to see the culmination of nearly four years of work pay off with a beautiful day in a tremendous stadium in front of more than a thousand softball fans,” said ACC Assistant Commissioner of Championships Brandon Neff. “What a great experience for both teams’ student-athletes to play in such an exciting environment for a fall ball game. Kudos to the Duke staff for putting on a great inaugural event.”
North Carolina State University was the first opponent. Katherine “Kat” Huey threw the first pitch. Wilson recorded the first hit. Jameson Kavel collected the first run batted in on a bases-loaded walk that scored Rachel Abboud for the first run and Hannah Pridemore launched the first home run over the left field wall.
“All of the hard work it’s taken to get here, the two years of work and to finally have it come together on game day was tremendous. I knew that the first full game and having a young team that there would be nerves we’d have to manage in a 10-inning game against a very good NC State team, but I am just proud of how this team came out, went all out and played a great first game.”