In failure, success, Texas softball sticks together, creates family

Pitcher+Sophia+Simpson+throws+the+first+pitch+of+the+inning.+Texas+played+McNeese+State+at+Red+%26+Charline+McCombs+Field+on+February+16%2C+2022.

Lorianne Willett/The Daily Texan

Pitcher Sophia Simpson throws the first pitch of the inning. Texas played McNeese State at Red & Charline McCombs Field on February 16, 2022.

Nick Hargroue, Sports Reporter

Texas softball entered the season as a group of relative strangers, with new faces and program legends intertwined in the hunt for a common goal: a 2022 Women’s College World Series berth. Early struggles aside, the Longhorns have attempted to create a championship-winning atmosphere while still remembering to love the game of softball.

The Longhorns were a top-10 team entering the year and were expected to be one of the best teams in the country considering their returning talent. Star senior infielder Janae Jefferson, leading Texas all-time in total hits and batting average, headlined the lineup, while the Longhorns also added a talented senior transfer pitcher in Hailey Dolcini and a reigning Gatorade Texas Player of the Year in freshman pitcher Sophia Simpson to form a dominant pitching staff on paper.

Despite a hot 4–1 start to the season, Texas faltered against top competition. The team lost six games in a row to highly ranked teams including UCLA, Florida State and Auburn. Many teams would crumble after such a stretch, but Texas head coach Mike White’s straightforward philosophy managed to keep the team together in the early portion of the season.

“Everyone just (needs to) — and we preach this — do your job: D.Y.J. That’s what we’ve got to focus on,” White said. “Sometimes I think, and this is what happens to the leaders, they try and do too much. … There’s this finality about their careers, and they start to put too much pressure on (themselves).”

This Texas team is young, with over half of its day-to-day starters in their first or second year on campus. Earlier in the spring the inexperience showed, with the team unable to put together a complete, clean game of softball. As the season has progressed, however, the players grew to be more cohesive, culminating in the team’s victory over Oklahoma in April, shattering the Sooners’ NCAA-record 38–0 start to the season.

A key aspect of this growth is the camaraderie among the players, as the gap between veterans and newcomers has slowly vanished. Reserve players like sophomores Bri Cantu, Carlee Ratcliff and Jordyn Whitaker are key to the team dynamic. While these players have limited time on the field, teammates attest that their infectious energy in the locker room has kept the game fun for the whole team.

“They’re all three like the funniest people I’ve met,” Dolcini said. “Camille Corona is pretty good at always making sure to start (the energy), and then I think the natural energy that comes off of good plays … (is) huge for us to continue with.”

Before games, the team sometimes plays hacky sack in front of the dugout, and sophomore outfielders Alyssa Popelka and Bella Dayton throw around a football in the outfield to loosen up their arms. The good vibes continue outside of Red & Charline McCombs Field, as the team took the weekend off before the Oklahoma series to relax, hang out by the lake and visit family.

This team entered the year as a group of players and emerged from the gauntlet as a family. Coach White and the team have been deliberate in keeping the environment fun, loose and welcoming, leading the Longhorns into the postseason with a chance at a run toward Texas’ sixth Women’s College World Series appearance and its first since 2013.