We interrupt the notes to bring you a personal profile…
Many accredit, and appropriately we might add, the national
recognition given to the Colorado State football program to the
arrival of head coach Sonny Lubick and his intrinsic mannerisms.
Some have even called his program’s turnaround, and with this
accreditation we argue, the greatest CSU sports has known.
Before expounding further with our counterargument, let’s
flashback to 1998, the final season of the winningest coach in CSU
women’s softball history, Candi Letts (160-106-1 overall record),
and the beginning of the Teri Klement era. Whether the team’s
abrupt decline from consistent winner to distraught loser can all
be pegged on Klement (whose two-year tenure brought internal
struggles with players and a 37-56 combined record) is not the
issue; that something had to change is.
Enter Mary Yori, a head coach at Nebraska-Omaha, who had never
experienced a losing season. Recognizing the disorder in the locker
room, Yori quickly cleaned it up, bringing in her hand-picked staff
of recruits to help bring CSU back to Letts-like prominence. The
ascension wasn’t as swift as the decline – in her first two seasons
Yori saw her young club go a combined 29-70 – but it did come
…with a force.
At the culmination of her second season with the Rams, when the
team went an unimpressive 19-33, Yori said she saw a team on the
verge of something big. She was right. In the 2002 Mountain West
Conference softball tournament in Provo, Utah, the Rams, led by the
bats of then-sophomore Ricky Walker and then-senior Kai Stone, made
a run to the championship game before being ousted by Utah in a
tight win-or-go-home contest.
“The girls gave it their all today,” Yori said after that loss.
“I’m glad they had this experience and I’m excited with what we
have coming back.”
What came back produced an 18-win improvement over the previous
season’s total and a wealth of players able to compete at
national-caliber level. While marching through the conference
season en route to a surprising second-place finish (the team’s
highest since it won the Western Athletic Conference title in
1997), Yori had her women focusing on bigger things: an appearance
in the NCAA Regional Championships.
Such a goal would have seemed unattainable in 2001 when Yori
took over a club in disarray; but, riding the bats of All-American
first baseman Walker and co-offensive player of the year Steph
Roberts and the arm of all-MWC pitcher Megan Masser, the Rams
rolled into the championship of the MWC tournament and defeated
regular-season champion San Diego State 3-1 to earn an automatic
berth to the regional championships.
Though the team’s first appearance in the regional championships
since 1997 was short-lived – the Rams lost to eventual national
champion Arizona and Cal State-Northridge – the turnaround can be
considered complete. The job now facing Yori is one she has yet to
confront at CSU: living up to expectations.
“We have worked very hard as a staff and as student-athletes to
reach a level of becoming a national-caliber program,” Yori said.
“I believe that everyone associated with our program is dedicated
to the same goal.”