Mountain Lions go from rags to regionals
"This is so cool," said University of Colorado at Colorado Springs softball coach Scott Peterson. "I can remember driving to Omaha in those old school vans. It was our only real road trip of the year."
Peterson and his Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference champion Mountain Lions were being driven to the airport in one of the school's colorful and comfortable Mountain Lion shuttles on Tuesday. There they boarded an airplane for the flight to San Antonio, Texas, where they will compete in the NCAA Southwest Regional Softball Tournament for the first time.
"We've come a long way," said Peterson.
Few can comprehend just how far this program has come since Peterson's arrival just prior to the 2001 season. He inherited a team in disarray, lacking even have enough players to field a team. Many of the players he had were outmatched at the Division II level. Peterson scoured the dormitories to find anybody with any softball background just to have enough players to field a team.
"(Athletic director) Randy (Cubero) hired me in September and school had already started," said Peterson. "I found out in the very first practice that we had no depth, no speed and very little pitching. It was too late to do anything about it so we did the best we could."
That first team went 8-36, thanks in large part to four wins over Division III Colorado College. The 2001 Mountain Lions hit below .200 in conference play. CU-Colorado Springs assistant coach Tanya Ramsay, who was an All-American shortstop for Southern Colorado (now Colorado State-Pueblo) during that 2001 season, remembers the low esteem in which opponents held CU-Colorado Springs.
"When we came to Colorado Springs, we were more concerned with where we would eat afterwards than we were with the game," said Ramsay. "We knew we'd win in five (innings)."
Peterson patiently built the program, starting with his first recruiting class that included current junior standouts Charlene Berg, Amber Colton, Jennifer Dykstra, Kara Rainey and Sarah Wodniak.
"It started with Amber Colton," said Peterson. "Once we got her, the rest started to fall in line. We knew we needed pitching, so we went after the best pitcher in the state, which was Amber.
"That class was what got us started."
CU-Colorado Springs hovered around the .500 mark in 2002 and qualified for the RMAC tournament in 2003, where the Mountain Lions were eliminated in three games. Entering the 2004 season, Peterson's initial recruiting class had become veterans. He also brought in key transfers Crystal Krebs, Brenna Pool and Sonia Reyes.
The result was stunning. CU-Colorado Springs led the RMAC with a .340 batting average while posting a 35-11 record entering the regional tournament. The Mountain Lions won the conference tournament despite an early slip-up that put them in the losers' bracket. Five Mountain Lions were named first-team All-RMAC and two others were placed on the conference's second team. Krebs was named player of the year, while Pool was tabbed pitcher of the year and Lindsay Shandera was named co-freshman of the year. Not surprisingly, Peterson got coach of the year.
"We never had all-conference kids and now we swept the awards," mused Peterson. "It's been a lot of hard work. It's really indescribable."
This year's success should be more than a one shot deal. CU-Colorado Springs has no seniors on the roster and Peterson has secured a recruiting class for 2005 that rivals that spectacular initial class.
"This recruiting class that's coming in will get here and the kids who are already here will be able to show them "˜this is how it's done,'" said Peterson.
"We've built a brand-new tradition that's going to carry on for a long time," added Ramsay. "Amber's class was the foundation that we've built upon. We're having fun and people are starting get on board - not just parents but students, staff and faculty. The community is really starting to get involved, too."
With the cloud of doubt and suspicion that has swirled around big-time collegiate athletics in recent years, it's refreshing to see a team that's built around academics and enjoyment first, with excellence as a byproduct. The Mountain Lions' new tradition has been built upon a foundation of hard work and high character - a stark and refreshing contrast to the norm.
"Everybody that we talk to loves our team," said Peterson. "We're all having fun. We don't have even one kid who's a problem on this team. All of our players are really great kids and it shows."
And yes, that is very cool.
UCCS Players/Staff Featured
|Additional News Stories|
|December 27, 2004||Peterson reloads with strong recruiting class||Faced with the loss of seven seniors after this season, University of Colorado at Colorado Springs softball coach Scott Peterson knew that the 2004 and 2005 recruiting classes would be pivotal in carrying forward the national ranking that the current Mountain Lions worked so hard to earn.|
|October 18, 2004||Renovation of softball field begins||The first step of what promises to be a major upgrade of the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs softball facility began Monday when team members began painting the bleachers at what used to be Four-Diamonds Sports Complex's Red Field.|
|September 30, 2004||Fall ball shows that Lions are loaded||Collegiate softball's fall season operates much like pro football's preseason. The games don't count in the standings, so the primary goal is to evaluate talent for the upcoming spring season. After 17 games of evaluation, the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs can be assured of one thing concerning its 2005 softball team.|
|June 2, 2004||Softball finishes 10th nationally||To the long string of firsts attained by the 2004 University of Colorado at Colorado Springs softball team, add one more.A Top-10 national ranking.The Mountain Lions finished the season ranked 10th in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Division II poll, which was released Wednesday. The NFCA is responsible for the official softball rankings of the NCAA.CU-Colorado Springs was unranked until the final poll. The Mountain Lions, however, gained national notice by knocking off three nationally ranked teams at the South Central regional tournament on their way to a second-place finish. That the South Central regional winner, Angelo State, went on to win the national championship also helped CU-Colorado Springs in the voting.|
|May 17, 2004||Powerful recruiting class bolsters Mountain Lions||If the coaches in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference and the Southwest Region thought the University of Colorado at Colorado Springs' run to the RMAC title and the regional championship game was a one-time fluke, they'll need to reevaluate that assessment. Not only did the Mountain Lions graduate no seniors, but they also will get back a star pitcher and have signed one of the strongest recruiting classes in school history.|