High expectations don’t bother team

by Jessica McDonald

Softball at Simpson College has a prestigious tradition of winning.

Under the leadership of the winningest coach in Division III softball, Head Coach Henry Christowski, the Storm have won two NCAA Division III national championships, four regional championships, four IIAC championships and appeared in five Division III national tournaments.

“There’s always pressure from incoming players to win,” said Christowski. “With close to an 80 percent winning percentage, kids want and expect to win.”

Incoming players are aware of Simpson’s strong softball tradition.

“That’s why I came to Simpson,” said junior Meghan Kelso. “I wanted to be part of a winning softball team.”

Christowski recruits student athletes who have high goals, a strong work ethic and dedication to the sport. Playing softball at Simpson takes up a lot of time and Division III rules do not allow Simpson to offer financial scholarships to athletes. These players are truly dedicated to the sport.

Although the Storm hasn’t appeared in an NCAA Division III playoff game since 2000, Simpson is still considered a tough team throughout the region.

In 2001, the selection process for the Division III championship tournament was changed. A team must have an end-of-season winning percentage of .500 to even be considered for a bid.

It all depends on win-loss record. A team can receive a bid to the championships by winning the conference championship. There are select conferences that are considered “powerhouse” conferences. Those conferences are chosen based on the quality of teams in the conference.

Those select conferences receive an automatic qualifier bid, which is the team that wins the conference championship. The automatic qualifier bid steals away a substantial amount of bids. Since the IIAC does have several strong softball teams, it is considered an automatic qualifier conference, whoever wins the IIAC goes to the tournament.

“A team can have a terrific record, then stub their toe and not win the conference and then they don’t have the opportunity to go to the championships,” said Christwoski. “Sometimes teams who aren’t in strong conferences have an advantage.”

After all the automatic qualifier teams are selected, a team still can receive an at large bid. Usually there are only two to three at large bids. To receive an at large bid, it comes down to the team’s record and quality of performance.

The number of games played and quality of opponents are both factors that are taken into consideration. If a team has played several regionally ranked teams and has played well against them, it would have a good chance of receiving an at large bid.

Christowski believes that these changes have affected Simpson’s appearance at the national championship. Last year, the Storm missed some games due to bad weather. This decreased the amount of games played and then missed receiving the bid by a single point.

“The best way to get into the tournament is to win the conference,” said Christowski.

The Storm is well on its way to doing that and Christowski feels that the team’s unity has a lot to do with the team’s success thus far. “Everyone contributes something to the team whether they’re out on the field or cheering from the bench.”

The Simpson softball team has high expectations this season and it expects to go far.

“We need to take advantage of every opportunity and be able to execute in clutch times,” said Kelso.

The coaching staff has worked extensively on live hitting. This gives the pitchers and hitters live game experience. The team has also worked a lot on putting execution of the bunt to work.

“We’re going to take skills from practice and put them to practice in games,” said Christowski.

Hitting is going to be the team’s biggest strength, according to Kelso. The team outscored its opponents in the Rebel Classic Tournament in Kissimmee, Fla. 59-9 in 12 games. Being able to hit live in the gym has helped the Storm offensive cause.

Simpson softball players plan to maintain team unity and continue to perform well in the areas it has been in order for a victorious season.

“Players are going to play at different levels each game, as long as someone is there to make the plays, we will be successful,” said Christowski.