OKLAHOMA CITY – Lindsey and Kelsey Chambers started their collegiate careers with a year they would like to forget. They are finishing it with a year they will remember the rest of their lives.
The reason? Mike White.
When Oregon takes the field Thursday night for an opening-round game against Arizona State at the 2012 Women’s College World Series, it will be the first time since 1989 the program has participated in college softball’s main event. In fact, Oregon, a member of the elite Pac-12, is making only its second appearance all-time in Oklahoma City.
Not long ago, in 2009, the Ducks finished 16-34.
“It’s kind of hard to talk about,” said Lindsey Chambers, who hit .141 in 42 starts as a freshman. “It was really hard, not exactly what I thought it would be coming into college.”
Added Kelsey, Lindsey’s twin, “Honestly, my freshman year I didn’t think we’d even make to a regional. Getting to the Super Regionals the last two years, it was tough to lose, but this year we were not going to let that happen again. I think the experience paid off for us.”
Enter White, a native of New Zealand whose winding road to Eugene has included plenty of twists and turns.
In a country where rugby and cricket dominate the headlines and there is no baseball, White was introduced to softball at a very early age. By the age of 14 he started to take a liking to pitching. A six-month stay in the United States opened his eyes to the possibilities, and after returning home, he received another offer to play in the U.S. Eventually it evolved into six months abroad and six months at home – not the easiest, financially, to keep up.
A team in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, gave White his next opportunity.
“I arrived on New Year’s Eve and it snowed 12 inches that night,” said White, who earned a Bachelor’s Degree in marketing and management from Mount Mercy College in 1989. “Coming from California I asked myself what was I doing here? It was a big culture shock, but I really loved it. I was able to do some hunting and that Midwestern mentality fit right in with what I was all about.”
|WOMEN’S COLLEGE WORLD SERIES|
Oklahoma 5, South Florida 1
Getting to Know
• LSU | UC | USF | OU | UO | ASU | UT | UA
• How a Kiwi changed the Ducks
• Bulls following plan to the letter
• Previewing the Women’s College World Series
Next up for White was a job in Aurora, Ill. He owned and operated a sporting goods store, dealing with retail sales and everything that goes into running a business throughout the Midwest.
And then Ralph Weekly, now in his 25th year of coaching softball, recommended another change – coaching.
“(Weekly) said I should really look into coaching because he thought I would be good at it,” said White, who was part of a bronze medal winning U.S. team in 2000 as a pitcher. “I didn’t have patience as a player, so how was I going to be patient enough to coach? I didn’t take him seriously at first.
“But I was getting tired of the retail business and I loved softball so I thought I would give it a try.”
Oregon head coach Kathy Arendsen had an opening on her staff. Eugene lies along the same parallel as New Zealand, meaning the weather is very similar. White fell in love with the place. But after three years the grind was not exactly what he was looking for.
“Softball is more of a lifestyle than a job and I wasn’t quite ready to make that commitment,” he said. “I stayed involved, giving some private lessons.”
White also helped as an assistant at Marist High School in Eugene. His two seasons there, in 2008 and 2009, Marist went a combined 58-2 and won two 4A Oregon state titles.
In May of 2009 it was announced that Oregon head coach Kathy Arendsen would not have her contract renewed after the 16-34 campaign that included a 3-18 record in Pac-10 games.
White, and the addition of a talented pitcher, Jessica Moore, provided an immediate impact.
“His tone was a lot different,” said Lindsey Chambers. “He brought out a positive vibe immediately which is what everybody needed. We had a teleconference the first time and everybody was asking where he was from because his accent was different. He talked about what his goals were, to make it to Oklahoma City. You could sense a change almost immediately.”
“An important piece to turning things around was getting Jessica Moore,” said Kelsey Chambers, who takes a .303 batting average and 10 home runs into tonight. “She led us to Super Regionals. And Coach White really worked on the mental part of our game, making us practice hard and picking each other up. In softball you can’t get down on yourself. After you make an error or strikeout you have to forget about it and continually move forward, think about the next pitch or at-bat.”
Moore, a native of Sutter, Calif., has been steady.
As a freshman in 2010 she started 31 games, winning 16, and compiling a 1.86 earned run average. The Ducks, just one year after winning only 16 times, lost in a Super Regional to Missouri and finished 36-21.
In 2011 Moore was even better, starting 35 games, winning 24, and posting a solid 1.90 ERA. The Ducks won a Regional at University Park, Pa., but did not show up in Gainesville, Fla., dropping games of 9-1 and 7-0 to Florida in a Super Regional.
Just over a week ago it looked as if the Ducks might come up short once again, dropping the first game of the best-of-three Super Regional in Austin, Texas. But a dramatic 5-4, eight-inning victory, followed by a 10-6 win in the deciding third game punched Oregon’s ticket to Oklahoma City.
“It’s been unreal,” said Moore, who is 32-13 in the circle for the 44-16 Ducks heading into Thursday’s meeting with the Sun Devils. “We lost that first game (at Super Regionals) to Texas. I was disappointed because we were ready to play that game because the morale was different from previous years. We went into the next game behind but you couldn’t sense any tenseness or anything; everybody on the team was really determined. Coach (White) just said that we froze a little bit when the curtain went up; he had a right to say that because we did. We battled through that first game, dealt with everything that went on and took a lot of momentum into that third game.
“To hear about what the seniors on this team went through their freshman years; I’m really happy for them.”
It’s been a dream come true for the Chambers twins, natives of Concord, Calif.
“That first year, it was a learning experience, and to think that we have come this far in such a short time; there is no way, as a freshman, I thought I would be playing in the World Series as a senior,” said Lindsey. “We’ve been working so hard since Coach (White) got here.
“This whole last week has been hard to take in. We are all so excited to be here, especially me and my sister. To be seniors, always wanting to play for Oregon growing up, and to finish our careers at the World Series, it is a dream come true for us.”
Now that Oregon has qualified for the biggest event of the year, as you might expect from White, he is not satisfied.
“I’ve tried to take what we’ve had and make the best out of them,” said White, who became a United States citizen in 2004. “I’ve always wanted to win, at everything, it’s what I do; just been very competitive all my life. I’ve never really settled for second best, I’ve always worked hard to make the best out of every situation.
“I’ve continually pushed the girls but have made sure to try and make it fun for them.
A lot of these programs have been around longer, have had a lot more success, but the thing about sports is that it doesn’t know who is supposed to be good, just better on a particular day. We’ve shown we can play with the best teams; that is why we are here.”
In 2009 White was inducted into the International Softball Congress Hall of Fame. The pace he is setting for Oregon softball – The Ducks are 122-53 since his arrival – might land him in a few more halls before he is through.