Softball at LMU has begun in what looks to be a long and packed season ahead. In 2020, the team, like many other teams, suffered a devastating blow when they received news their remaining games on the schedule would be canceled due to COVID-19.
With much of the season left to go, these were some of the last memorable games they had together as a team. Coming off those huge victories, there is no doubt that the program was headed in the right direction and LMU fans had a lot to be excited about as the season progressed.
But it's safe to say that all focus has shifted towards the new and what's to come for women's softball. In the fall of 2020, the athletic department announced the arrival of new coach and former Olympian Tairia Flowers. Flowers brings an extensive resume coming into her new head coaching position. Before LMU, Flowers coached 10 seasons at Cal State Northridge. There, Flowers became the second coach with the most wins in its program history.
She also achieved 259 Division I wins under the Matadors and in 2015 was named Big West Conference Coach of the Year. Aside from her impressive accomplishments as a coach, Flowers was a standout athlete herself. At UCLA, Flowers powered the Bruins to appear in four straight College World Series and a national championship victory in 2003, capping off a 1-0 win against UC Berkeley.
Perhaps the most prized accolade in her career is having played for the national softball team in the 2004 Summer Olympics, where she won a gold medal. In 2008, she won a silver medal at the Beijing Olympics.
If there is anyone who can lead the softball program to success this season, it is definitely Flowers. The team has already played eight games and currently holds a 3-5 record so far. After being introduced as the new coach in the fall, Flowers has had much time to acclimate and situate herself into a new part of Los Angeles.
The team has not been on the field together since early March of 2020. In the lead up to this season, that meant a completely different approach for Coach Flowers who admitted it was different than any of her prior experiences.
“Honestly we are still getting to know each other and seeing what our strengths and weaknesses are,” Flowers said. “We are just trying to piece it all together and I think the biggest thing is we haven't had the ability to play in a while, so it's making sure we aren't taking reps for granted and understanding it's a privilege to be out here making the most of each opportunity.”
In a time where the unknown is present every day, it seems that many coaches' mindset is to make the most of what is in front of them in the given moment. Playing sports during COVID-19 has raised so many question marks.
At LMU recently, the women's tennis team was forced to cancel their season due to COVID-19 restrictions. After all the preparation and hard work, those players are back at square one and face the similar tough circumstances they endured last year.
However, with all that is going on, the women's softball team has been on high alert and continues to be aware of its surroundings. Their normal everyday approach with practices and games has definitely been affected, but Flowers preaches a mindset that has remained the same since the start of the season.
“At the end of the day, we try not to worry what's going to happen with this season,” Flowers said. “It's [to] be safe, follow all the protocols, but if we are worried about the season and constantly thinking about if it's going to get canceled, it's not really a good place to live. All we can do is control what we can control and make the most out of every day that we have.”
Coming in as a first-year coach for any team can be a daunting assignment. The upside for LMU is that Flowers has been in this position for many years prior to her arrival. She understands the coaching and player aspect of the game and that putting the two together can ensure some great things to come for the program.
With every season comes something new. Whether it's seniors graduating or freshmen coming in, no year is ever the same. With challenges and obstacles presented, each team's path to success is weighed differently. For LMU softball this year, it is all about focusing on their goals and how they can be successful this season.
“Just being our best selves,” Flowers said. “Figuring out how to play together as a team. Trophies and championships make it easy to define success, but whether at the end of the day we win the game, it will be, 'did we play our best softball?' So just taking care of the ball, coming up with clutch hits. Overall, we are just focusing on the process and not so much the outcome.”
The team is coming off a weekend in which they went in right at a .500 average but were defeated by number one ranked and defending College World Series champion UCLA in a doubleheader played on Sunday, Feb. 21. The first game was a blowout in which the Bruins swept the Lions 11-1. In the second go-round, the Lions were defeated again by a more comfortable 6-1 final score.
As Flowers falls to her alma mater, the Lions will get another shot down the road to avenge their loss against the powerhouse Bruins. For this week, the team will look to rebound come Saturday, Feb. 27, as they continue their road trip against UC Riverside. The Lions are set to kick off conference play on April 10, where they will take on Santa Clara University.