Apr 152004
 
Authors: Josh Pilkington

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.”

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