June 6, 2018 - by
A Title Won By A Team, Shared By A Family

OKLAHOMA CITY – It had been nearly an hour, after the final out was recorded and after the handshake line and after all the friends and family poured onto the field for hugs and tears and pictures amid a sea of confetti.

A line of Florida State softball players, led by freshman Sydney Sherrill and joined by coach Lonni Alameda, had arrived in the media room beneath USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium, where they were set to discuss their 8-3 victory over Washington in Game 2 of the Women’s College World Series and the national championship that came with it.

That’s when Sherrill, a native of nearby Moore, Okla., who left her home state for Tallahassee, came upon a realization.

“None of us have our trophy!” Sherrill said.

When a team wins an NCAA championship, it’s awarded a big trophy that looks familiar to any fan of college sports – a dark wood base with gold trim and a glass panel engraved with the winning school’s name.

Every school gets one, and every player and staffer gets a miniaturized version, proof that “everybody gets a trophy” doesn’t always have to be a bad thing.

But as Sherrill, Meghan King, Elizabeth Mason, Zoe Casas, Anna Shelnutt and Jessie Warren made their way to their press conference, no one had their trophy.

And, in Sherrill’s mind, that just wouldn’t fly. The Seminoles were about to be broadcast live on ESPN and worldwide on the internet, and Sherrill was sure that everyone was going to see their new prize.

So she hollered at King, who was making her way from the back of the room, “Meghan! Bring a trophy!”

King obliged, and with their priorities fulfilled, the Seminoles could finally get to talking, laughing and, sometimes, crying about a championship more than 35 years in the making.

“I’m so proud of this team,” said Warren, the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, while fighting through tears.

“It feels amazing,” added Sherrill. “This a dream come true for me and my team. We knew we could do it.”

Tuesday night, it turns out, fulfilled dreams for dozens wearing garnet and gold. Some of them in game uniforms, others in coaches’ attire, and still others in t-shirts and shorts in the stands and on the field after the game.

Some of them were back home in Tallahassee, others scattered around the country. Some were longtime softball fans, some had played the game at FSU, either under Alameda or JoAnne Graf, and others might have been watching for the first time.

No matter their story, they shared in what Alameda and her group achieved here this week. And, whether literally or figuratively, there was a trophy for them.

There was one, first and foremost, for Alameda, the perfect coach at the perfect time to take the reins from Graf, the program’s first coach, and bring it into a new era.

Over the last decade, she’s built a program and a culture that reflects her personality, which means the Seminoles are fun but focused, and serious but, by their own admission, silly.

In winning her first title, she reminded that a coach doesn’t have to have to yell or scream or run a team like a military boot camp to succeed.

“She’s competitive, but yet so fun and so family-oriented,” King said. “She’s a mother to all of us.”

That extends beyond Alameda’s own team, too.

“She’s like a mentor to me,” Washington coach Heather Tarr said. “She was somebody I always wanted to be like. And it sucks to lose, but I’m so happy for her and her program.”

There was a trophy, of course, for King, who wrote her name in the record books with a 0.20 earned-run average that ranks as the best in Women’s College World Series history.

That’s a far cry from King’s first experience in Oklahoma City, in which, perhaps overwhelmed by the moment, she had far from her best outings.

Or, as Alameda succinctly put it earlier this week, she failed.

“She’s failed in a lot of big moments, and that’s this game,” Alameda said. “You have to embrace the adversity and the ups and downs with it.”

Armed with two more years’ worth of perspective, King has since learned to roll with those ups and downs and, as a result, has experienced plenty of ups and hardly any downs over the last few weeks.

And she saved her best for Oklahoma City – four wins, one save and only one earned run in an astonishing 34 1/3 innings.

“It was always there (for King),” Alameda said.

There was a trophy for Warren, the slugging third-baseman who is due to appear on ESPN’s Sportscenter on Wednesday morning.

After capturing the nation’s sporting attention with her acrobatic catch on Monday, Warren on Tuesday got back to what first made her famous: a 3-for-4 performance at the plate highlighted by a towering home run to center field.

Not a bad way to call it a career.

“I think that’s everything you dream of, to leave college with a ‘W’ and end the season with a ‘W,’” she said. “That was one of the goals. I’m so proud of this team, and this university has done so much for me. This coaching staff has taken me under their belt as their own child.

“I came into this program as a kid, and I’m leaving a strong woman that wouldn’t have wanted it any other way.”

There was a trophy for the freshman Mason and her father Karl, whose phone was going crazy although it took a few moments for him to realize why.

With ESPN cameras trained on an unknowing Karl Mason in the stands, Elizabeth, FSU’s No. 9 hitter, belted a two-run homer that gave the Seminoles a commanding lead and sent Washington ace Taran Alvelo packing.

It was Mason’s second home run of the tournament – the first was a three-run shot to beat UCLA in an elimination game on Sunday – and a sure sign that FSU’s future is in good hands.

From his spot in the bleachers among the Seminole fans and families, Karl Mason sported a wide-eyed grin that would’ve been impossible to fake. And it was broadcast live to a national audience.

“Your phone blows up, and it’s, ‘What’s happening?’” Mason said. “But you’re so engulfed in what’s happening on the field and the players – every at-bat, every out is just very emotional for everyone.”

There was a well-deserved trophy for Kylee Hanson, too.

One of the ironies of FSU’s recent run is that, for all of the adulation thrown King’s way – all of it deserved – it was Hanson who led FSU’s pitching staff for much of the season.

She had more wins, a lower ERA and accolades as both the ACC pitcher of the year and a second-team All-American.

It had been, in nearly every way, a storybook season for Hanson, a graduate transfer who left Florida Atlantic for FSU in hopes of finishing her career with a championship.

“She was a freshman and a senior at the same time,” Alameda said.

Most coaches wouldn’t leave their All-America pitcher in the dugout for two games of a WCWS Final, but Alameda liked the look that the left-handed King gave the Huskies. And after she shut them out in Game 1, Alameda had no reservations about going back to King in Game 2.

That might be a difficult reality for most pitchers to face. But judging by the massive embrace she shared with her father John after the game, and the tears that each cried when he looked at her and said, “You’re a national champion,” Hanson didn’t mind.

“I can’t describe this,” Hanson said. “This is amazing. This doesn’t happen. This is literally a dream.”

“Coming to Florida State, it was a dream,” John Hanson echoed. “It was a dream before she came here, five years prior. But to have her come here and set foot on this campus and be a part of something –  this team and this culture –  it’s beyond words. I couldn’t be prouder.”

And if she couldn’t be in the circle herself, there was no place Hanson would have rather been than in Oklahoma City, cheering for King and the rest of her teammates.

“She wasn’t going to get beat this week,” Hanson said. “I just knew I had to step it up when I had to.”

There was a trophy, in a sense, for Noah Shelnutt, the younger brother of “Postseason Anna,” who, 20 minutes prior to Tuesday’s first pitch, came up with a crazy idea.

It involved garnet and gold body paint and an awful lot of glitter.

Shelnutt, who joined former FSU softball standout Breezy Hamilton in the glitter and paint, is a student at Florida State and made the trip, like he has so many times before, to watch his sister play.

“She shines out here,” Shelnutt said, himself shining too. “She’s always great. I’m her brother and her biggest fan. Growing up, watching her play travel softball, I never thought I’d see my sister out here hitting home runs on the biggest stage.

“I’m extremely proud of her.”

There was a trophy for Graf, (who, it should be said, actually has her own trophy, from FSU’s 1981 slow-pitch national title) as well as Cecile Reynaud, Marynell Meadors, Billie Jones and the dozens of other pioneers of women’s athletics at Florida State – those who Alameda refers to as her “role models.”

FSU is nearing its 50thanniversary of women’s sports, and softball’s triumph put an exclamation point on what has been something of a golden era in the department.

Mark Krikorian’s soccer team won a national championship of its own in 2014, Sue Semrau’s basketball program is a perennial title contender, and Amy Bond (golf), Jennifer Hyde (tennis), Chris Poole (volleyball) and Brooke Niles (beach volleyball) have all pushed their sports to be among the nation’s best in recent years.

 “(FSU’s) women’s sports are so successful on and off the field, and success breeds success,” Alameda said. “And our kids are around great soccer players and great volleyball players and driven people in tennis. That breeds successful people.”

There was a trophy, really, for the entire Florida State community, and the city of Tallahassee that surrounds it.

With the spotlight to themselves, the Seminoles captured the hearts of seemingly everyone inside FSU athletics and beyond.

Messages and videos of support flooded Alameda’s Twitter timeline, with athletes and coaches from football, men’s and women’s basketball, volleyball, women’s golf, swimming and diving and track all wishing them luck.

Some even had a little fun and decided to take a crack at recreating Warren’s diving grab:

Fans from other programs got behind the Seminoles after watching how they carried themselves in OKC. Sports bars in Tallahassee held watch parties for the game. (Incidentally, an orange-and-blue clad fan approached me in downtown Oklahoma City and said, “This is the one time this Gator will ever say this: ‘Go Noles!’”)

Alameda was busy preparing for the biggest night of her professional life, but even she couldn’t help but take notice.

“So cool,” Alameda said with a smile. “It’s Tallahassee. It’s why I chose Florida State. I got the family feel after 10 minutes on campus. …

“And I’m so grateful that everyone loves what we’re all about.”

On that note, Alameda allowed a trophy for anyone who might have arrived a little late to the party.

For anyone who might have first gotten to know these Seminoles this week.

Or, for that matter, anyone who found themselves tuning in to watch a college softball game for the first time.

For those getting their first taste of Florida State softball, and joining in on the celebration, Alameda has a message:

Welcome aboard.

“The whole bandwagon thing, right?” she said with a laugh. “For people that were like, ‘Oh, we don’t really know Florida State softball and now we’re jumping on the bandwagon’ – awesome. Jump on board. It’s really cool. I just think that’s awesome.”

Finally, there was a pair of trophies reserved for two members of Florida State’s softball family that couldn’t be in Oklahoma City on Tuesday.

Although Monk Bonasorte’s name is largely synonymous with football, the former FSU safety and longtime administrator has a deep and lengthy history with Alameda and her program.

Bonasorte had a large say in hiring Alameda from UNLV in 2009, and he served as softball’s overseeing administrator until his death from brain cancer in 2016.

Alameda spoke at Bonasorte’s memorial service, dedicated a camp in his honor to support his scholarship fund, and adopted one of his favorite sayings as a team motto:

“What you kept today, you lost forever. What you gave today, you keep forever.”

As she took in the view from the top of the mountain, Alameda couldn’t help but think of both Bonasorte and Taylor Foster, the 17-year-old FSU fan who befriended the team before dying of bone cancer in 2014.

“I think he just won us a championship,” Alameda said. “Monk had such a passion for this team. And Taylor had a passion. Sometimes there’s a greater spirt. … I do believe in karma and doing the good things, and I do think someone was with us today – Monk and Taylor.”

Given Alameda’s culture of family and inclusion, it seems only appropriate that a championship won by so relatively few could be shared by so many.

Turns out that there’s a trophy for anyone who loves Florida State, whether they’re lifelong devotees or recent additions thanks to Alameda and her resilient, remarkable, ceiling-breaking, history-making, championship-winning group of Seminoles.

Hold it close. Lift it high.

 

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