2015 Fordham Softball – Week 17 / Championship Synergy

Monday, May 11, 2015 – Atlantic 10 Tournament / Amherst, Massachusetts

(Courtesy of Tom Wasiczko)

(Courtesy of Tom Wasiczko)

I remember studying Aristotle’s concept of synergy in my Philosophical Ethics class during my sophomore year. From a desk in Fordham’s hallowed Keating Hall, I learned about this two thousand year old idea stating that the whole of something is greater than the sum of its parts. A model following the notion that when individual figures are combined within an arithmetic operation, the figure that follows the equal sign is always superior in value than the ones that precede it. Maybe Aristotle was a sportsman back in his day, because his profound thoughts reflect the ultimate metaphor for teamwork, which was on display for us this past week in the Atlantic 10 Conference tournament.

Following a regular season that saw our team frequently competing as individual figures rather than a cohesive whole, there were enough ups and downs to make even roller coaster enthusiasts queasy. But, we Rams finally discovered the synergy that had been lacking for many of the previous fifty games, and fortunately, it was found in the nick of time.

Just a handful of weeks ago, however, our erratic play had caused us to question whether or not we would even qualify for the conference tournament. We began to hear the whispers of outsiders and naysayers, and had intermittently fallen into the trap of doubting our collective ability to capture a third straight championship. But, similar to how the trees seem barren one day and in full bloom the next, something suddenly and inexplicably began to blossom for us just recently between the white lines.

Entering the conference tournament as the third seed, we cruised through the six-team bracket during our stay in Amherst, Massachusetts. Like a well-oiled machine, we won four-straight games, including victories over second-seeded St. Louis and top-seeded Dayton in the championship game, even though both teams had combined to beat us four times during the regular season. Against the odds and predictions, we became the first three-seed in our conference’s history to hoist the trophy on championship Saturday.

On paper, though, we weren’t supposed to win the tournament this year. SLU had walked-off on us twice during our first conference series of the season in March in devastating, come-from-behind fashion, and Dayton had mercied us on our home field during Easter weekend. Even though we had displayed dominance against every other team in the conference, there was such a great disparity that existed between the top three squads in the Atlantic 10 and the rest of the teams this year. Thus, despite our impressive 17-5 conference record, we were still viewed as the third best team in the A10. On paper, that is.

But, like we had been reminding ourselves since the last time we played and lost to SLU and Dayton, championships aren’t won in the chilly days of March and April; they are won in the heat of May. And, no matter how bumpy the ride may have felt earlier this season, the synergy that ensued last week was certainly worth the wait.

That’s the great thing about sports, though. No matter what the prognosticators predict, the critics critique, or the numbers suggest, the one ineffable characteristic about competition is its human element. And with that, comes a whole slew of possibilities. Like the synergy that a team can kick into high-gear at the most opportune of times, and go from performing as individuals to competing as a unified whole that is most definitely greater than the sum of its parts. The most beautiful of sights on a softball diamond, if you ask me.

So, fresh off the heels of our seemingly improbable Atlantic 10 championship, here’s to hoping that our synergy persists in the upcoming NCAA Regional at James Madison University, even if for just a few more days.

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The Roller Coaster Ride of a Lifetime

Monday, May 19, 2014 – NCAA Tournament / Tallahassee, FL

Our last team picture as the 2014 Fordham Rams.

The 2014 Fordham Rams, for the last time.

The song seemed appropriate. OneRepublic’s “Good Life” filled the speakers at Florida State’s JoAnne Graf Field as we convened for one last team picture. We had just ended our season with a heartbreaking 5-4 loss to South Carolina in the NCAA Regionals. The loss was a bitter pill to swallow, but OneRepublic’s lyrics eased the immediate pain and provided an amazingly fitting ending to our final moments in uniform together:

Hopelessly, I feel like there might be something that I’ll miss.

Hopelessly, I feel like the window closes oh so quick.

Hopelessly, I’m taking a mental picture of you now.

‘Cause hopelessly, the hope is we have so much to feel good about.”

That last line was particularly pertinent for the moment. After capturing our second straight Atlantic 10 Championship and finishing with a 36-20 record, as well as all of the other individual and collective accomplishments we garnered throughout the season, we do, in fact, have so much to feel good about.

Michele Smith and me chatting after our first game at Regionals against Florida State.

ESPN commentator and Olympic gold medalist Michele Smith chatting with me after our first game at Regionals against Florida State.

For fifteen weeks, I have documented many of the highs and lows of the 2014 Fordham Softball season. During this fifteen-week process, I have learned more about myself, my teammates, and the nature of this amazing sport than in any other season in my fifteen-year softball career. In these fifteen short weeks, our myriad successes and failures comprised the story that will be forever etched in both the history of our program and the history of our lives.

As a particularly sentimental person, now is the time when my nostalgia is at an all-time high. Just as I will miss our four seniors (Tina, Bri, Gabby, and Elise) and the tremendous journey we experienced together, I will also miss writing this blog. While capturing the so-called “chapters in-between” (the moments that shape the journey, but often go unnoticed and unappreciated), this blog has provided me with an outlet to experience clarity and understanding during some of the toughest times this season, as well as a way to truly appreciate the moments of greatness and joy.

After getting eliminated on Saturday night by South Carolina, I talked with Sydney, my roommate during Regionals, in our hotel room before falling asleep. We reminisced and recapped various moments from our season and compared it to a roller coaster ride; not in the traditional sense, however, in which roller coasters are often used as metaphors with negative connotations.

My Dad and me at Regionals. He made the trip down to Tallahassee to support his Rams.

My Dad and me at Regionals. He made the trip down to Tallahassee to support his Rams.

We determined that our 2014 softball season was the roller coaster ride of a lifetime. Sure, there were moments of anxiety and doubt while we were ascending up the tracks, along with moments of fear after the initial drop-off, during which we felt like we might fall out or become sick. But, after we got some momentum and stopped white-knuckling the safety bar in front of us, the rest of the ride was thrilling, and even joyous. Ultimately, this roller coaster ride left the people who had experienced it wanting to hop back on line and ride it again.

For thrill-seekers, like me, there is nothing more enjoyable than a good roller coaster ride.

As I say goodbye to yet another season in my softball career and begin preparing for my final go-around next year, I find solace in the words of Ernest Hemingway:

“It is good to have an end to journey toward; but it is the journey that matters, in the end.”

And what a journey it was. Thanks to everyone who came along for the ride!

Glorious Triumphs and Worthwhile Experiences

Tuesday, May 13, 2014 – Atlantic 10 Tournament / Bronx, NY (A10 TOURNAMENT CHAMPS)

Rams posing with the trophy after the big win.

Rams posing with the trophy after the big win. (Courtesy of Tom Wasiczko)

I took the time to look around and take it all in. In the 5th inning, with the score 11-0 and a trip to the NCAA Tournament just three outs away, I gave myself the chance to truly enjoy what was happening at that very moment.

It wasn’t exactly what I had imagined it would be, but then again, most things usually aren’t. When a championship game is decided by the mercy-rule, the immediate thrill of victory isn’t nearly as electrifying. After letting it sink in for a few days, however, I’m glad there was never any doubt that we were going to win that final game against St. Louis because it allowed me to step outside of myself for the last three outs, and live in that moment I had been dreaming about all year.

So much of my writing over the course of this season has been about seizing the moment, enjoying the journey, and even appreciating the seemingly difficult things along the way. In a matter of three outs, probably equaling about five to seven minutes, I was able to do each of those things.

Talk about things coming full circle.

Perfect symmetry, as Lauren and Amy celebrate (left), while Elise and I do the same (right).

Perfect symmetry: Lauren and Amy celebrate (left), while Elise and I do the same (right). (Courtesy of Tom Wasiczko)

I thought about the grueling 6am conditioning workouts in our outfield in September, as well as the time spent practicing and earning the right to be standing on the field at that very moment.

I flashed back to some of the hardest times during the season, too; I looked at Elise next to me at shortstop and remembered how, two months ago after a painful loss to Central Michigan in Florida, she had said that it wasn’t too late to turn our season around, and that we could go on a run and eventually be laughing about all the struggles we had endured.

I looked around and took in the beautiful surroundings of Bahoshy Field, which had not been that packed since Alabama came to play us in 2012. With the banners hanging high along the fence and the home crowd buzzing for the championship they knew to be inevitable, I felt a sense of pride.

When the final out was ultimately recorded (a line drive right back to Michele at the mound), I ran and jumped into Elise’s arms for the second consecutive year; a childlike celebration reflecting the pure and unadulterated joy of the moment.

Rams mob Sydney after leading off the championship game with a home run.

Rams mob Sydney after leading off the championship game with a home run. (Courtesy of Tom Wasiczko)

After the game, a few of my friends were commenting about how I had a huge smile plastered across my face during the entirety of the last inning. I couldn’t help but smile, both outwardly and inwardly. We had done it. We had accomplished our biggest goal of repeating as Atlantic 10 Champions, and had done so on our home field. We had overcome struggles from the beginning of the journey that had caused us to question our team’s identity and make a conscious choice to alter the trajectory of our season. We had risen to the occasion and played our best softball when it mattered most, as we swept through the three games we played in the Atlantic 10 tournament without leaving a doubt in anyone’s mind that we were the best team in the conference.

Although the championship game may have reflected an easy path to victory, with the score being lopsided and the mercy-rule coming into effect, the irony of the situation is that the road to the championship was anything but easy for us. As a team, we had to endure some of the lowest of lows throughout the season; from being humbled for the first time in Charleston, to going 0-5 in California, to the disaster that was the Bradley game, to team and personal conflicts throughout the journey, and most recently, to the embarrassment of being swept by Dayton, our journey to the top of the mountain had several pitfalls along the way.

Me and the trophy, a moment I had been waiting for all season.

A moment I had been waiting for all season. (Courtesy of Tom Wasiczko)

But, as Thomas Paine said, “The harder the conflict, the more glorious the triumph. What we obtain too cheap, we esteem too lightly; it is dearness only that gives everything its value.”

To me, the value of our 2014 Atlantic 10 Conference Championship is greater than any trophy or banner could ever symbolize; it rests in the memories I will always cherish and the people I experienced the journey with.

As we continue our season at Florida State University in the NCAA Regionals this upcoming weekend, I plan to continue seizing the moment, enjoying the journey, and even appreciating the seemingly difficult things along the way. After all, that’s what makes the triumphs glorious and the experiences worthwhile.

Lifting the Anchor for the Final Leg of the Journey

Monday, May 5, 2014 – University of Dayton / Dayton, OH

Team picture at the annual Block F student-athlete banquet before we left for the Dayton series.

Team picture at the annual Block F student-athlete banquet before we left for the Dayton series. (Courtesy of Tom Wasiczko)

For the first time in four weeks, we Rams lost a softball game. Two games, in fact. One 5am departure from campus and a connecting flight later, we arrived in Dayton, Ohio on Friday to play our final series of the regular season. Dayton had everything to play for; not only was it their senior day, but it was also their last opportunity to make the Atlantic 10 tournament. They were a bubble team who needed to at least split with us in order to book their trip to the Bronx. We, on the other hand, were playing simply for pride, as we had already wrapped up the number one seed in the tournament with our sweep of La Salle the weekend before.

From the early goings of game one on Saturday against Dayton, we knew we were in for a dogfight. They hopped out to an early 1-0 lead in the first inning before going up 5-1 on us by the third. Each inning thereafter, we chipped away at their lead. Elise finally tied the score at five with a two-run bomb in the sixth inning.

Heading to the eighth, with the score still tied at five, we erupted for four runs and a collective feeling that we had sealed the win. Dayton had other feelings, however, as they answered right back with four runs of their own, forcing the game to continue. Their unthinkable comeback took the wind right out of our sails, as it took everything we had to battle back and finally take the lead, before the ultimate feeling of deflation took effect. Dayton eventually walked off on us in the tenth inning to cap a crazy three-hour game.

The second game, which occurred just 20 minutes after our disappointing loss in game one, was a complete blur for nearly everyone on our sideline. Upon discussion later that night at the airport, we came to the conclusion that we lost the second game in the eighth inning of the first when we relinquished our four-run lead. Our 15-game winning streak had ended, and we were forced to swallow the bitter pill of defeat for the first time in four weeks; a taste we had nearly forgotten.

Me with Michele, our stud pitcher and one of my very best friends, at the Block F banquet. (Courtesy of Tom Wasiczko)

Me with Michele, our stud pitcher and one of my very best friends, at the Block F banquet.

With the loss also came the end of my own personal ribbon-wearing streak. Since our game at Lehigh at the beginning of April, in which we came from behind and won in the final inning, I have been wearing the same red ribbon with blue anchors in my hair for each game we have played. One of our super freshmen and center fielder Sydney gave our team the ribbon to wear that day. Her message behind giving us the anchor ribbon was to use its symbol of hope as a reminder to keep the focus on our goals and prevent us from drifting. She also used it as a metaphor for what it means to be a teammate. The anchor represents the stability and strength that we have in each other.

I loved that. So much, in fact, that I vowed to wear the ribbon until we lost again.

As we set off on our final voyage of the season, we are ready to lift the anchor and embark on what will certainly be our most trying journey yet. Along with the anchor, our hopes are also rising with the possibilities that this upcoming week will bring. It is championship week; the time we have been preparing for since August. Our shortcomings at Dayton, along with the myriad other experiences of our season, will serve as preparation for the rough waters ahead of us in the A10 tournament and hopefully beyond.

The lifting of the anchor has us steadfast in our pursuit of the destination: an Atlantic 10 championship. We are hopeful and excited for what is ahead, and ready to embark on our final journey with an unparalleled zeal and determination. Our ship is built on the stability and strength we have in each other, and I am confident that there is not a stronger or better-prepared ship than ours in the A10 to take on the upcoming storms on the sea.