Clark’s youthful Softball team endures growing pains
Connie Clark, the only softball coach in Texas history, was disappointed when her team bowed out of its ninth NCAA Regional appearance in 12 years only two steps shy of a berth in the NCAA Women's College World Series. "It's tough to be done," said Clark, following a 5-3 loss to Washington in the Houston Regional.
"At Texas," she continued, "this is a little bit earlier than we like to be finished with our season. But, we were a fairly young club. Now, we have to go back to work and improve on our play and be better next year."
How young were Clark's Longhorns in 2008?
Of the 15 players on the roster, nine were freshmen and sophomores and only one -- pitcher Meagan Denny -- was a senior. And of those nine freshmen and sophomores, six started 38 or more games during the season.
"Amy Hooks, Brittany Barnhill and Shelby Savony were three freshmen we thought would help us this year and they did," said Clark, who also got grand performances from sophomores Loryn Johnson, who led the team in hits, RBI and home runs, and Tallie Thrasher, who owns 20 career round-trippers.
Clark, who said before the season that she loved the mental toughness of this team, did not back off that assessment in light of the elimination in the Regional. The Longhorns finished with a 29-23-2 mark for 2008, reaching the regional for the fourth consecutive year and fifth time in six years.
"I loved the intensity of this group," said Clark, whose club earned a fourth-place finish in the Big 12 Conference. "This group competed well and showed a lot of heart. That was apparent in the regional. There also was a great team chemistry with this group and that is so important to a team's success."
Clark acknowledged that there were inconsistencies in the team's play this season.
"We did have our ups and downs throughout the year," she said. "And that is the biggest part of my job and my assistants' job -- keeping the team even."
Thirteen times during this season the Horns followed a win with a loss. Only once did Texas win as many as five games in a row and only twice did they win four in a row and one of those streaks didn't come until May 1-10.
"We lost a number of tight games," Clark said. "Again, though, they kept working and kept competing even when there was disappointment."
Clark, a two-time Big 12 Conference Coach of the Year, was pleased with the return of Desiree Williams, who missed all but eight games of 2007 with a knee injury. Williams, an All-Big 12 Conference performer, added her name to the Texas career record books where she already was in the top five in slugging percentage, on-base percentage, home runs and times hit by pitch.
Kelly Melone also returned to health this year and paced UT with a team-high 12 doubles. She and Williams will be two of five seniors on the 2009 team that also will be bolstered by a fine recruiting class.
Clark welcomes Alexis Bennett, Courtney Craig and Nadia Taylor next fall. All of the newcomers are outstanding players on club teams. Bennett and Taylor are from the Houston area, while Craig is from Oceanside, Calif.
"During our exit meetings, I was so pleased with the attitude of the team," Clark said. "They were already prepared to get back to work. A lot of them are going to be around (Austin) this summer. They already have a great mental focus. They are motivated and have a positive outlook for next year."
With a year of maturity for the younger players and a strong recruiting class, Clark knows being "done a little earlier than we like" will not be a regular occurrence for the softball team.