This is a short history of the planting of the seeds of Clemson’s successful softball program. It’s quite amazing.
In 2017, John Rittman didn’t need to pursue another job. His status was already secured as one of the great college softball coaches of the early 21st century. In 18 seasons at Stanford, Rittman’s teams had a winning record every year, reached the NCAA Tournament 16 times and the Women’s College World Series twice. Simply put, he was a winner.
As an assistant for Kansas, he got a fortutious phone call from upstate Soith Carolina. Clemson to be precise. In a 2020 article written by Benjamin Rosenberg for Softball America, Rittman tells the story, of how he ended up here, in Tiger Town.
“Clemson called and I went home and talked to my wife and she pretty much told me if I didn’t get on a plane the next morning, she was going to kill me,” he said.
Yes, behind every successful man, there’s an insistent and wise wife. Off he went to Clemson for the interview, and once on campus, as he said “it was a no-brainer.” He knew Clemson was the place where he and his family wanted to be.
There you have it, Rittman became the first head coach in Clemson softball history, more than two years before the Tigers played their first game. Clemson had to build its program from scratch, from coaching staff to a roster to a stadium, a sparkling new facility. Yes, softball was finally headed to Clemson.
However, it seems that softball’s arrival on campus was made possible by the discontinuing of two other women’s sports, diving, and swimming. In keeping within the regulations of Title IX and the financial realities of sports in 2016-2017, enter softball. A number amongst the Clemson family had been questioning for a while, why no addition of the sport? Patience is a virtue because it finally happened.
Most assumed building a program would be a challenge and all hoped the right resources would be afforded. It was then and continues to be well supported. It was believed at that time, adding softball was clearly a money-ACC network-driven decision but that’s the name of any game, right?
After the completion of the beautiful McWhorter Stadium, in its 2020 inaugural season the Tigers went 19-8 in a Covid shortened season. Then, in 2021 they went 44-8 and 29-5 in the conference and won the regular season championship. They were overlooked by the NCAA to host a regional due to a weak RPI. The 2021 conference awards were filled with orange. Valerie Cagle was awarded both the Player of the Year and Freshman of the Year. John Rittman was honored as Coach of the Year.
The 2022 season has been and continues to be spectacular. After finishing the regular season, 42-15 and 24-10 in the conference, runner-up in the ACC Tournament, they just won their first NCAA regional championship and now, they will move on to the super regional and hopefully on to Omaha.
To put an exclamation point on the weekend’s championship, pitcher, Millie Thompson threw a no hitter in one appearance and a one hitter in another. Cagle also had a complete game shutout. Needless to say, this team is playing with confidence.
To think, all of this has happened right in front of our eyes and it’s only the beginning of the harvest from the seeds planted in 2017. The best for this special group of athletes, everything is truly right in front of them. Good Luck!
– Some material courtesy of Clemson University Communications.
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