The Concordia Eagles softball team won its first-ever national championship on May 30, completing a powerhouse season with an eye-popping 52-3 record.
“This year was marked by an extreme amount of hard work and really good team chemistry,” says coach and former CUI softball player Crystal Rosenthal ’02, MCAA ’07. “These young ladies did everything our coaching staff asked of them and were rewarded at the end of the year with the big prize.”
The Eagles have been on the rise for the past few years, posting a 58-4 record last year and setting a new NAIA record by winning 44 in a row. The coaching staff has been remarkably consistent as well and is made up of CUI softball alumnae.
The Eagles also had one of the best pitchers in the NAIA, Pitcher of the Year Katie Cotta who Rosenthal says is “probably the best pitcher in NAIA history.” In her two years at CUI, Cotta broke many school records and set the NAIA record for no-hitters in a season (11). She was a 2012 First Team All-American and led the NAIA in strikeouts per nine innings (17.3), opponent batting average (.061) and hits allowed per game (1.75). She was dominant during the regular season and surrendered a mere three earned runs in 150 innings of work for a 0.14 ERA. She was GSAC Pitcher of the Year both years at CUI.
“I couldn’t ask for two better years here,”
Cotta says on the Eagles athletic website. “I am so blessed to be here with these coaches and players, who are all my friends.”
The Eagles went into the championship in Columbus, Georgia, as the #1 seed. They won every game on the way to the championship but entered that final game “a little shaky at first,” falling behind 2-0, says Rosenthal. “The girls were nervous but settled in and then blew it open.”
A fourth-inning rally put the Eagles ahead for good as they defeated #10 seed Spring Hill (Ala.) 8-3. The championship’s most valuable player was Concordia right fielder Caitrin Debaun, who scored two runs with two hits and was 7-for-12 on the week.
Shortstop Jenna Jorgensen, a 3-year player from Laguna Niguel, says the team built to this victory over the last three years.
“It feels awesome to win,” Jorgensen says. “I’m still speechless. From the beginning I knew we had the potential to win as long as people bought into the program.”
Senior Shannon Groom, a power hitter, made All-American in her first year of significant playing time.
“I set out to have a good senior season and had hopes and aspirations but never ever thought I’d be an All-American or have the success our team did,” she says. She attributes it to the “amazing coaching staff and the hard work they put in. Our team really bought into the program and our style of play which is to play hard all the time. We don’t play to the other team’s level. We set out to win every pitch, to be more focused than the other team, to be aggressive. It took mental toughness which we worked on over the year. I’m proud of the team chemistry and our ability to be selfless and focus on winning. It was a great way to end my college career."
"Winning the championship was always a distant dream, but when we got there it was even better than what I had conjured up in my head."
"Every day it sinks in a little more and it’s like, ‘Wow, we did it!’”
Rosenthal says this team embodies the program’s values of service and hard work.
“From community service to what we did on the field, these girls are outstanding young people,” she says. “They are always looking for a way to go out and serve. They are kind and considerate on campus. God has had a huge role on our team in bringing these great girls to Concordia. He has blessed our coaching staff to work with 20-year olds who get it. I get excited about the future of our world with these girls going into it.”
Alumni support also has been strong the last couple of years and brought excitement to the program.
“I’ve been at Concordia 15 years now and every person who has played has been part of building it to this point,” Rosenthal says. “Getting this championship has been a huge effort and a long time coming.”
Next year many players will return and be joined by a new class of recruits.
“We’ll try to do the same thing we’ve been doing: work hard, work the values of the program and see what we can do,” says Rosenthal.