Say this about the Pacific Lutheran softball team: They play hard and celebrate fast.
They came back from Virginia on Tuesday afternoon with the NCAA Division III National Championship trophy in hand, accepted the boisterous cheers and well-wishes of several hundred fans and classmates at the University Center, and then got back to business.
Stacey Hagensen, the Lute pitcher who was named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, had to dive into her school books because she had a final exam this morning. She’s finishing up her double-major (economics and math). One would expect nothing less of one whose 3.91 grade-point average earned her Academic All-America honors.
Coach Erin Van Nostrand was in even more of a hurry, turning around almost immediately and heading back to the airport for yet another cross-country flight. She is getting married this weekend in Boston.
Own the diamond in Virginia, collect the ring in Boston.
And honeymoon after that?
“No, that will wait until September,” she said. “I’m coming home and sleeping for a week and then go recruiting it never ends.”
The Lutes’ championship game victory could not have been more symbolic of their rise to dominance as it was a 3-0 shutout over the defending national champ and Northwest Conference rival Linfield.
Hagensen was on the mound for that one, as she was for every inning of the Lutes’ eight consecutive tournament wins, including the full 12 innings of the dramatic semifinal win over Montclair State.
“She’s our heart and soul,” Van Nostrand said of her star pitcher. “Without her, we’re not here today.”
Hagensen, meanwhile, deflected credit to the rest of the team, believing their success was fueled by a shared competitive passion: “Everyone wants to succeed so much; we all get along really well and encourage and support each other.”
That was the theme voiced by most of those who commented on the 45-11 season that was the best ever at PLU.
Clutch-hitting first baseman Amanda Hall, who nailed a three-run homer to turn the game around in an earlier tournament win over Linfield, called it “camaraderie.”
“We’re just a group of girls who are like a big family,” Hall said. “We have so much confidence in each other, all the way down the lineup. If one doesn’t get the hit, somebody behind them will.”
Van Nostrand employed a vague and somewhat existential definition of the element at the root of this team’s run to the championship. “They have ‘It’,” she said. “We talk about having ‘It’ all the time.”
A definition of “It,” coach?
“It’s persevering, pushing, being a good teammate, never backing down, never quitting,” she said. “We have no drama, we have no issues, we like each other, we support each other, we hold each other accountable. That’s so important. Talent will only get you so far.”
In the case of the Lutes, it takes a village to build “It.” Or at least to fund “It.”
PLU athletic director Laurie Turner told of Van Nostrand coming into her office a year ago with a theory on what they could do to elevate the program to the next level. “Erin came in and said we must to go Hawaii and Texas to have a chance,” Turner said of Van Nostrand’s idea to upgrade the non-conference schedule.
Turner, of course, had to point out that such trips are pricey for non-scholarship Division III programs.
Van Nostrand and her troops saw it as just another challenge to overcome. They’d raise it themselves.
“We raised over $50,000 this year,” she said. “We did it on the backs of the athletes and the parents and PLU and we funded the trip.”
The investment paid off at tournament time. “When we got to the tournament, we were ready for whatever they threw at us,” Van Nostrand said. We’d seen it all before. We’d taken every challenge and every battle they threw at us and handled it with grace.”
And that’s how they celebrated their win, too. Hugging their fans. Applauding each other. And then getting back to work.
You have to hustle to sustain “It.”firstname.lastname@example.org