Only two other teams in NCAA Division 1 Women’s College World Series of Softball history have done it – UCLA and Arizona. And now, Florida can put its name along with those two historic programs as a team that has won Back-to-Back National Championships. On top of having some great company as repeat champs with UCLA and Arizona, Florida stands alone as the SEC team to go Back-to-Back as WCWS Champions.
This is a big deal in the world of softball. What previously was a sport completely dominated by the Pac-12 (and previously Pac-10), has made its way across the nation to the Southeastern Conference (SEC). At this year’s Women’s College World Series (WCWS) a single conference had at least 5 teams competing for the Championship – and this time it wasn’t the Pac-10. It was the SEC. This is the first time since 1999 one conference has had at least 5 teams punch tickets to the most important tournament in college softball. The last time it was done, the Pac-10 had 5 teams punch their tickets.
So what does this mean for the sport of softball?
This shows that the sport is growing and gaining traction across the country. In the states that were once the primary hotbeds for fastpitch softball – California and Arizona – you now see some dominant players from states like Florida, Alabama, Texas, Oklahoma, Michigan, Illinois and so on. And not just players from these areas, but other schools and conferences that are gaining traction and respect in the world of softball.
Nowadays, you are talking about conferences: Pac-12, SEC, Big-12, Big Ten and Sun Belt, with teams like: Florida, Michigan, UCLA, LSU, Oregon, Louisiana Lafayette, Auburn, Oklahoma, Missouri and Hofstra – just to name a few.
Rewind just 10 years ago…
… and it was the first time a team east of the Mississippi won the National Championship, when Michigan completed the feat at the end of the 2005 season. Ten years before then, from 1995-2004, it was ALL PAC-10 with the exception of one team – Oklahoma (Big-12) – winning the title. Pure dominance from the Pac-10 back then.
Now take a look at the winners over the last 10 years (’05-’15): 6 from the Pac-10, 3 SEC, 1 Big 12 and 1 Big Ten. Sure, it appears as though the Pac-10 is still dominant – oh wait… did you think I meant Pac-12? Well, actually, no I didn’t mean Pac-12. You see, the Pac-12 Conference has yet to win a National Championship. Since the Pac-10 transitioned over to the Pac-12 in July of 2011, the Pacific-12 Conference has not captured the Championship Title. In fact, all of the SEC titles that have been won, have been solidified after that 2011 season. Since the change it has been: SEC (Alabama, 2012), Big 12 (Oklahoma, 2013), SEC (Florida, 2014 & 2015).
But don’t get me wrong, stats like this don’t mean that the Pac-12 isn’t good – they’re still a very dominant and powerful conference in the world of NCAA fastpitch softball. But what this does imply is that talent is becoming more widespread throughout the country. It’s not just one area that is considered competitive anymore – it’s all over. So even though, for years to come, we will most likely see some of the usual suspects from the Pac-12 in the post season and possibly the WCWS: UCLA, Arizona, Arizona State, Oregon etc. It’s great to see other teams break down the barriers and make a name for themselves outside of the Pac-12 like: Florida, Michigan, Auburn, Georgia, Louisiana Lafayette, Oklahoma, Baylor and Nebraska – to name a few.
So congratulations to Florida…
… for making history as the first team outside of the Pac-12 to successfully defend their title at the WCWS. They came into the tournament with the biggest target on their back as the #1 overall seed, defending NCAA WCWS Champs, having the SEC Player of the year and National Player of the year/SEC Pitcher of the year. They had a lot to defend and they did with resolve.
Can Florida make a run at history and be the ONLY team to go back-to-back-to-back as NCAA fastpitch champs? Maybe the Pac-12 will make its way back to dominance and take it. Or maybe, just maybe, someone else will come out of the woodwork and surprise the nation. With the way the sport is going these days, it’s not impossible.
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