Few coaches can boast of successful 17-year spans in their careers, and even fewer can claim such a run at the beginning of their head coaching days. Since starting The University of Texas' softball program in 1996, head coach Connie Clark has built one of the most successful programs in college softball.
In 16 varsity seasons, Clark has positioned Texas Softball firmly on the national map. No longer considered an upstart program with tremendous potential, Texas has earned its reputation for having the best players, facilities, traditions and coaches. When people talk about Texas Softball, they talk about only one thing: success.
Since its ascension to varsity status in 1997, Texas has emerged as one of the most dominant softball programs in the nation under the direction of Clark. In only 16 seasons as a varsity program, Clark -- the 1987 Broderick National Softball Player of the Year as a collegian -- has led UT to four Women's College World Series appearances (1998, 2003, 2005, 2006), 13 NCAA Tournament appearances (1998-2000, 2002-03, 2005-12), four Big 12 Conference Championship tournament titles (1999, 2002, 2003, 2005) and four Big 12 regular-season titles (2002, 2003, 2006, 2010). In fact, Texas' appearance in the 1998 WCWS -- in just its second varsity season -- still ranks as the quickest arrival at the NCAA Division I softball "Elite Eight" tournament in the history of the sport.
Clark's overall record at UT is 645-283-3 (.694).
Texas is at the forefront of the national and international softball scene. Clark has produced one national player of the year (three times), 22 All-America selections, six Academic All-Americans and countless All-Big 12 honorees.
The Longhorns can also claim two Olympic gold medalists (pitchers Cat Osterman and Christa Williams), and a total of six national and junior national team members, including current Longhorn Taylor Hoagland, with four members of the 2006 Texas squad (Tina Boutelle, Meagan Denny, Osterman and Desiree Williams) being part of that group.
Clark's peers have taken notice of her work in Austin, voting her the Big 12 Coach of the Year in 2002, 2006 and 2010. Clark and her assistants' efforts in developing the Texas program were noted when they were honored as the 2006 National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) Midwest Region coaching Staff of the Year after being named the 2003 Speedline/NFCA Division I Coaching Staff of the Year.
In 2003, her Longhorns became the first-ever team to win both back-to-back Big 12 regular-season titles and back-to-back Big 12 Championship tournament titles.
Clark spent the 1996 season developing the Longhorns' program at the club level before guiding UT softball to intercollegiate Division I status in 1997. Texas commenced its status as a varsity program with a bang, collecting a winning record (30-24/.556) in its first official season.
Clark has not only created a national power, but has also molded many of the nation's top collegiate talents. Many UT players under Clark's eye have achieved national honors.
In her tenure, Texas players have earned three USA Softball Collegiate Player of the Year Awards (Osterman in 2003, 2005 and 2006), two Honda Awards for national player of the year (Osterman in 2005 and 2006) and a total of 22 All-America selections. Clark had at least one athlete earn NFCA All-America honors in each of the 1998, 1999, 2000, 2002, 2003, 2005, 2006, 2010, 2011 and 2012 seasons, including Osterman, who is the program's first four-time All-American.
In 1999, Christa Williams earned second-team All-America accolades in her second season at Texas, while infielder Nikki Cockrell and outfielder Autumn Eastes represented UT on the third team. Williams and Cockrell were NFCA first-team members in 1998, and shortstop Jodi Reeves earned second-team recognition that year. Second baseman Lindsay Gardner earned second-team honors as a freshman in 2000.
Additionally, Clark's players have distinguished themselves at the regional and conference levels. Twenty eight of Clark's players have earned a total of 50 All-Region honors, including Lexy Bennett, Hoagland, Blaire Luna, Torie Schmidt and Nadia Taylor in 2012. Clark has recruited and coached six Big 12 Freshmen of the Year (shortstop Taylor Thom in 2011, pitcher Luna in 2010, second baseman Chez Sievers in 2003, Osterman in 2002, second baseman Gardner in 2000 and second baseman Reeves in 1997).
She has also guided three pitchers to six other major conference awards as Luna claimed conference pitcher of the year honors in 2010 and Osterman was the back-to-back conference pitcher of the year in 2002 and 2003 and again in 2005 and 2006. Clark coached Christa Williams to Big 12 Newcomer of the Year honors in 1998, and she has now coached players to 74 all-conference honors in 16 seasons.
International recognition also has come to Clark's pupils. The 2006 edition of the Horns' was the most internationally decorated unit at the Forty Acres since Clark started the program. The squad included a 2004 Olympic gold medalist and a 2003 Pan Am Games gold medalist (Osterman) and three players who represented the U.S. at the World Junior Championships (Boutelle in 2002, Denny and Desiree Williams in 2003).
Christa Williams' accolades continued in September of 1999, when she was named to the 2000 USA Olympic Softball team, the first of Clark's players to be tabbed an Olympian. Williams went on to win a gold medal at the Olympic Games in Sydney, Australia, in addition to her gold medal from the 1996 Olympic Games in Atlanta. Williams also represented the United States at the 1999 Canada Cup, earning the Lori Sippel Award for the tournament's most outstanding pitcher.
Gardner competed with the 2001 USA Softball Team and 2002 USA Elite Team as well as a member of the 2002 USA Softball National Training Team. Osterman was Gardner's teammate on the Elite Teams, as well as the training team.
For Clark's Longhorns, the team's success always carries over into the classroom as numerous players have received national and conference honors for their academic success. In all, Clark's athletes have earned six Academic All-America honors, including Osterman's third-team recognition in 2003, the same year she earned her first USA Softball National Player of the Year honor.
Longhorns have garnered academic ESPN The Magazine/CoSIDA Academic All-District honors 21 times, most recently as senior infielder Lexy Bennett represented Texas on the 2012 team. Clark has also coached 91 Academic All-Big 12 Team selections at Texas.
Clark, a standout athlete in her playing days, has been associated with national-caliber softball programs everywhere she has been. As an assistant coach at Florida State (1990-95), Clark helped build the Seminoles into a national softball power and helped lead FSU to four appearances in the NCAA Women's College World Series and to five NCAA Regional trips.
Under Clark's direction, nearly every Florida State pitching record was broken during those five seasons. In 1994, one of Clark's protégés at FSU, Rebecca Aase, set the then-NCAA record for consecutive victories with 50, while the FSU pitching staff established a then-NCAA mark for most consecutive scoreless innings with 124.2.
History has proved that Clark has mastered the art of teaching. She helped coach six of her Florida State players to All-America honors, 23 to all-region honors and six to Academic All-America accolades. During that time, Clark also was busy completing her education, earning a master's degree in athletic administration from FSU in April of 1995.
Prior to coaching at Florida State, Clark was an outstanding pitcher in her own right, leading softball powerhouse Cal State Fullerton to the NCAA Women's College World Series title as a junior in 1986.
A three-time All-America pitcher, Clark posted a 20-2 record with 197 strikeouts in 155.1 innings while leading the nation with a 0.18 earned run average in 1986. The following year, Clark posted a 33-5 record with 32 complete games, 19 shutouts and 261 strikeouts in 283 innings, earning the Broderick Award as National Softball Player of the Year. Clark's career ERA of 0.37 as a Titan places her in the top 10 for career ERA in Division I softball.
In 1987, Clark earned a bachelor's degree in physical education from CSF, then worked as a private instructor at the Rod Carew Baseball School in California and conducted private clinics in Tokyo, Japan; Auckland, New Zealand; Shanghai, China; and Italy.
Prior to her two-year stint with Cal State Fullerton, Clark pitched for Central Arizona Junior College under the direction of Mike Candrea, who is now the head softball coach for the eight-time NCAA National Champion Arizona Wildcats and the gold-medal winning 2004 Olympic team. Under Candrea's guidance, Clark led her team to back-to-back NJCAA championship crowns in 1984 and 1985.
For all of her success, Clark was inducted into the Arizona Softball Foundation Hall of Fame (2005), NJCAA Hall of Fame (2006), Cal State Fullerton Athletics Hall of Fame (2009) and Central Arizona Junior College Hall of Fame (2010).