Q&A With Washington Head Softball Coach Teresa Wilson
Jan. 18, 2002
The only head coach in Husky history, Teresa Wilson has built the University of Washington softball program into a perennial national power. Since its inception in 1993, the UW has earned eight straight NCAA tournament bids and a spot in the national title game twice.
Earlier this year, Wilson took time to reflect on 10 years of Washington softball.
Q: What is your earliest memory at Washington?
A: During my first year at Minnesota, I heard about Washington starting a softball program. I had just gone from Oregon to Minnesota, and missed the Northwest so much. I couldn't dismiss the feeling deep in my heart that kept telling me to go back to the Northwest, but I also felt that I could not leave the Minnesota program and the great kids there after only one year. I then heard that Washington had made the decision to put off adding the program for another year.
My second year at Minnesota, we won the Big Ten Title and advanced to post-season play. I felt, at that point, that John (Rittman) and I would be leaving Minnesota in a good place, so when the Washington opportunity came up, I followed my heart and moved back to the Northwest and the Pac-10.
The way the entire timeline played out, I've always felt that I was meant to be at Washington. Seattle and the UW have provided a wonderful place to live and work.
Another of my earliest memories is of the anticipation of getting that first group together, and what we would say, and the feeling that would be present and conveyed when we got together as a team for the very first time.
What a special feeling it was, knowing that we were about to start something for which we had full ownership. Our entire recruiting philosophy those first few years was about getting players who didn't want to go be 'another in a long line' of great athletes at a school. We were looking for athletes who wanted to be responsible for starting something special - something they could call their own - that no one could ever take from them.
We recruited pioneers, in a sense, and the pride that has existed from the very first day of this program is something that so few athletes get the opportunity to experience. It is a feeling that, to this day, represents one of my fondest memories.
Q: Who are a few of the most memorable players?
A: As a coach, I really do feel like a mom to 18 players every year. So asking about my most memorable players, or my favorite players, is like asking a mother to name her favorite child. It is impossible. They all hold their own special place in my heart.
Q: How do you think the sport has changed over the years?
A: The sport of softball has grown so much in the 10 years I have been at Washington. The fan base, the media coverage, the TV audience -every aspect of this sport has grown. The sport itself has become so popular. The TV ratings for any softball game, from the professional league, to USA Softball, and certainly the collegiate game have skyrocketed. The fact that the College World Series Championship game was the fourth-most viewed single event NCAA Championship on TV last year, that the eight College World Series games on ESPN2 averaged a 0.5 cable rating - a number that beat the 2001 Division I Women's Basketball Championship's cable rating average (0.45), and the fact that the championship game out-rated every Major League Baseball game on ESPN and ESPN2 over Memorial Day weekend - for the second consecutive year, just goes to show how fast this game is growing.
The fan base here in Seattle alone absolutely amazes me. For a major metropolitan area to have the second highest attendance in the country for softball two years ago, for us to have to turn people away from the regional championships for the past three times we have hosted, and for us to have so many sell-outs for our Pac-10 games, just excites.
This kind of fan base is such an exciting environment for the players to compete in. When you fill our stadium with 2,500 fans, add the best band in America, and bring any Pac-10 team (most of which are ranked in the top 10) in here to compete - well, in my mind, there is no better ticket in town for a sports fan!
Q: How do you think the program at Washington has changed?
A: I am thrilled that softball at the University of Washington has evolved to a point that people associate us with excellence. When you look at last year, when 15 of 19 kids had never started a college game, and to see that team finish third in the Pac-10 (the No. 1 and 2 teams in the conference finished No. 1 and 2 in the country), and end up in the Sweet 16, and have everyone say, 'Wow, you really had a tough year' - that tells me that we are where we need to be - associated with excellence.
I have such admiration and respect for John Wooden, Tom Osborne, Dean Smith, and Pat Summitt, for the staffs they have put together, how long they have stayed together, and the impact they have had on the game.
I was very fortunate to have John Rittman (now the head coach at Stanford) to work with for 10 years. The staff I have now - Scott Centala and Drew Christmon - is second to none. I feel that we have really put a staff together that can redefine the way a staff functions, as far as the areas of the game that can be covered, the knowledge that can be presented, and the way that information can be applied. That, in itself, is such a challenge, and such a source of motivation! It is a lot of fun!
Q: How long are you going to keep doing this?
A: My mom and I had a long conversation about this last summer. So many people in America have to work at a job they have no love or passion for, just to put food on the table, have a roof over their head, and clothes on their back. I am blessed to have a job that I love and one that I have so much passion for. So despite the fact that there are times when I go months at a time without a day off, I absolutely love what I do. I love these kids, my staff, and this game. I get to coach kids playing a game for a living. How much better could it get?