The Loyola Marymount Lions took many softball fans by surprise in 2018, nearly upsetting a years-long dynasty by Brigham Young University in the West Coast Conference. Despite failing to emerge ultimately victorious, LMU gave the Cougars from Provo a run for their money, with the conference title – and automatic NCAA tournament berth – coming down to the teams’ head-to-head series.
“We were really young,” head coach Sami Strinz-Ward said after the season. “Even though we had a mix of some seniors that started for us, we had anywhere from four to six freshman in our starting lineup all season, as well. I think it was a really good year for us in terms of growth and building.”
Despite falling just short of reaching the NCAA tournament, LMU accepted an invitation to participate in the NISC postseason tournament. The National Invitational Softball Championship, put on by Triple Crown Sports, included seventeen participating teams from across the nation. The Lions advanced through the tournament’s regional round and hosted the NISC championship round, ultimately emerging as the tournament champions, the first postseason championship in program history.
“I think [the season]was really capped off by having the opportunity to play in the postseason tournament, and winning it, as well,” Strinz-Ward said.
Loyola Marymount is one of three Division I universities and one of just two D1 softball programs in Los Angeles. Sporting a decidedly-lower profile than the Bruins of UCLA and even the University of Southern California – which does not sponsor softball – it can sometimes be difficult to gain a share of the spotlight.
“We’re a small school, so we don’t get a lot of love, but then it’s our job to give people something to talk about,” Strinz-Ward added.
The Lions will enter the 2019 season with a decidedly different look than their NISC-championship team of 2018, having lost six seniors, including four regular starters. The departed group’s impact was not felt only on the field, either, according to Strinz-Ward.
“Our senior left fielder Brooke Christensen was the heart and soul of our team,” Strinz-Ward said. Praising the group of departed seniors, the Lions’ coach added of Christensen individually, “To define a great leader, she would say what needed to be said when it needed to be said, and she was unafraid of ruffling feathers, which is exactly what [our]young team needed.”
The Lions will be a young team again in 2019, but Strinz-Ward said that her squad’s youth will not stop them from aiming for high goals. “We may be young, but some of our young players got to experience the postseason this year and will carry that with them,” she said. “I think we will be able to make some noise and maybe surprise some people this year.”
Loyola Marymount committed to Strinz-Ward for the long-term this summer with a contract extension through the 2021 season.