With blustery winds and dust flying, Mary Yori led a team of about 20 softball players carrying a massive tarp to cover CSU’s field.
The team, which has struggled to find its footing at times this season, was trying to beat a recent snowstorm that would close the school.
Despite protecting their softball diamond, the weather ultimately prevailed.
“It’s kind of like a starting-over point,” Yori said. “Use what we already know, take what we already know, use that as a learning tool to be able to make ourselves better for the second half of the season.”
The Rams, a 13-16 ball club, will have a chance to regroup and re-evaluate their team as a whole over the next six weeks. The Rams competed against BYU Thursday and lost 11-0. The Rams will host the Utah Utes at 3 p.m. today.
Despite this season’s ups and downs, the players remain confident in Coach Yori, now in her ninth year with CSU.
Kelli Eubanks, a freshman pitcher, says Yori has been successful in past years because of the way she motivates her team.
“She definitely knows what goals to pick and what she needs from the team and what she needs to bring to the team to keep us going and to keep the team moving forward,” Eubanks said.
Part of setting those goals for Yori comes in practice. No matter their outside distractions, it’s “softball time” when players come to the field.
Kim Klabough, a senior pitcher who has played for Yori for four years, describes the coach as a good motivator.
“She can get pretty intense, but I think it’s good for us. It really helps us out. It brings us to another level — the level we need to win at.”
In a strong, competitive conference like the Mountain West, Yori said the Rams are holding their weight. The Rams beat the San Diego State Azetcs to clinch the conference championship in 2003.
“There’s something really special when you see a group work together and culminate into something special,” Yori said of the 2003 team.
Michelle Reynolds, a senior third baseman, describes the atmosphere as more than just a softball team.
“We do a lot of things that aren’t just revolving around softball. We do a lot of team building, a lot of leadership stuff. Things that are going to make us a better person, not just a better athlete. It’s not just about softball,” Reynolds said.
From farm country
to Ram country
Growing up in a large family with four brothers and sisters, Yori always had backyard rivals. And within that close-knit family, she always had her little sister, Connie, to play ball with.
“I always admired what she did as an athlete,” Connie said.
Yori played softball and basketball throughout high school and continued to play softball in college. She earned awards at Ankeney High School in Ankney, Iowa, as a first team All-State softball pitcher for three years, from 1975 to 1977. She also earned awards as a first team All-State basketball player twice, in 1976 and 1977.
After she was offered scholarships for both sports, she ultimately decided to play softball because, she said, it presented a higher level of difficulty
Yori accepted an offer to play at Creighton in Omaha, Neb., and played through college, earning All-American honors twice. She guided her team to the College World Series for three straight years, from 1980 to 1982, and was inducted into the Creighton Hall of Fame in 1992.
After graduating with a degree in physical education and becoming a teacher in the field, Yori’s college coach convinced her to come back to softball.
“After two years of being out of collegiate athletics all together, she convinced me to come back and be a part- time volunteer,” she said. “One thing led to another; it became a full-time assistant job into a full-time head coach job.”
The head coaching job came from a prominent softball community in Omaha, Neb. Yori coached at the University of Nebraska-Omaha for 11 years, leading the Mavericks to a blinding 459-158 (.744) record and 10 consecutive trips to the NCAA regional tournament before deciding to come to CSU.
Yori cited many different reasons for coming to CSU but said that a new challenge was needed. She was also attracted to Fort Collins as a city.
“I like Colorado, I like biking, I like being outside in the weather in the summer. I like the lifestyle here.”
Looking forward – bigger and better
Since Yori’s transfer to CSU, she has constantly pushed her team to new limits. The team set multiple offensive records in 2008, and Yori also hit the 200-win mark and her 400th game with CSU last season.
“Athletics are funny. You go on these lulls. When you’re not winning a lot you’re not going to get the best players. When you start to win a little bit more kids take a chance again and you get better athletes,” Yori said. “I really feel like we’re on the move up again that we’ve got a little better athleticism in our program. We’ve got more versatility. We’ve got more impact players coming in.”
Coach Yori wants her players to focus on what is going on when stepping up to the plate or catching a pop fly.
And she’s excited about what this year’s team can bring to the table, confident that the season will continue in a positive direction.
” . I think we feel pretty good about where our program is headed and the direction of where we’re at with our coaching staff.”
As a freshman with four years left on the team, Eubanks said she is ready and eager to be a part of Yori’s team.
“I’m very excited. I see really positive things for the team this year and in the years to come. Lots of good things are happening,” she said.
Visual editor Rachel Dembrun can be reached at email@example.com.