Terps push hard in softball

Maryland: With a 41-19 record and Top 25 status this season, the fledgling program has translated improved funding into a quality team.

April 27, 1999|By Christian Ewell | Christian Ewell,SUN STAFF

Led by an overachieving coach and a pitcher who is the school's top producer in home runs as well as wins, the University of Maryland softball team has made it into the nation's Top 25 for the first time since the sport gained varsity status three years ago.

Ranked 25th, Maryland has won 22 of its last 26 games and is poised to pick up its second conference title in the past three seasons.

"I'm happy for it," Terps coach Gina LaMadre said. "I try to focus on one season, but you hope that by the time your first recruits are seniors, you can take the program to get the recognition on both the regional and national level."

Going into Thursday afternoon's game against George Mason, the Terps are 41-19 overall, 6-2 in the Atlantic Coast Conference. Pitcher Kelly Shipman has seven home runs to go with a 24-11 record and 0.96 ERA this season.

LaMadre took the Maryland job after eight seasons as an assistant at the University of Massachusetts, including a trip to the College World Series in 1992. The major thing she says she learned from her experience at UMass was the need for top-quality players.

She came to College Park in the fall of 1994, and not long after, she nabbed for her first recruiting class three players -- Amy Sadler, Fawna Lackovic and Shipman -- who are the backbone of the team.

"I saw some of the things you had to do to get a program ready to compete at that level. I did a lot of recruiting at UMass, so I know the type of athletes you needed to get you there," said LaMadre.

"Hopefully, you can find someone of that talent level, see what they're looking for, what you have to offer. It's about what you have."

In women's sports, the Terps' field hockey, basketball and lacrosse programs are well established, and the lacrosse team secured the ACC title Sunday. But others, including softball, are fledglings. For the late-comers, scholarship money has been crucial in driving up the stock of Maryland women's athletics in the past few seasons.

The school has gone from spending $2.745 million on women's sports in 1994-95 to $4.650 million for the current academic year, representing a 69 percent increase.

With the improvements to facilities (including a new softball facility to be built in the next few years) and the increase in scholarships has also come the recognition that attracts better athletes.

The fruits of gender equity in the athletic department have shown up on the women's side in tennis, swimming and gymnastics. The Terps have been able to recruit outside of the area. For example, the top three players for the women's tennis team are from Kansas, Tennessee and Yugoslavia, and the gymnastics program has been able to attract such national-level talent as Laura Moon of Scottsdale, Ariz.

And the softball team's roster reaches into Florida, though players from the mid-Atlantic region dominate the players' list.

None of this would be possible if not for the increased funding as part of a push to comply with Title IX.

"From a management perspective, what I tend to do is match competitive expectations with financial resources," Maryland athletic director Debbie Yow said. "We anticipated that there would be extensive strides in each of the programs as we continued to provide greater funding for their efforts.

"We also think we have three of the best coaches in the country in their respective sports, so this becomes a potent and powerful combination."

For Shipman, a Huntingtown, Md., native who is likely to be named the ACC Player of the Year, it was a matter of a chance to compete. Her first sport was volleyball, but at 5 feet 7 she was too short to expect a scholarship, schools told her. So she turned to softball after leading Charles County's Northern High School to two state titles.

While Shipman still considers volleyball her first love, the grant money LaMadre was able to offer her was as good as that for any other sport.

What drew others was the chance to build their own tradition at Maryland, as opposed to going somewhere else and making an addition to a foundation created by others.

"Just the idea that it was new program with a lot of room to grow," said shortstop Jennifer Potzman, a sophomore from Allentown, Pa., who chose Maryland over North Carolina and Georgia Tech. "Combine that with the atmosphere, the coaches; I couldn't see any negatives to joining the crew."

Since a group of walk-ons posted a 15-33 record in 1995, the fortunes of Terps softball had only risen heading into this season, with LaMadre compiling an 87-69-1 record over the previous three seasons.

After a 28-22 record last season, and with everyone returning, Maryland expected to be tough in 1999. But the team didn't practice outdoors until more than a month of the season had passed. Rusty, the Terps got off to a 14-12 start in which they played 15 teams that were ranked in the Top 25 at one point in the season.

Since then, they have been tough to beat, even against teams normally considered the bullies of the ACC. Florida State, perennially ranked in the Top 25, could only salvage a split against Maryland in a doubleheader earlier this season, while North Carolina was swept by the Terps on April 18.

The next goal for the team is an NCAA appearance, which it seems well on its way to achieving.

"Last year, the freshmen wanted to win the ACC like we did [as freshmen]," Shipman said. "This year, the sophomores knew that it [ACC] didn't mean much and we wanted to go to NCAAs. That's been our goal the whole time."

Pub Date: 4/27/99

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