Fordham football had hit rock bottom. A 41-0 home loss (all the 2018 home games were losses) to Colgate where the Rams were outgained 562 to 28. The type of mismatch that would have left Vince Lombardi screaming “What the hell is going on out there?” Except, unlike any Lombardi encounters, only 2,000 fans even bothered showing up for this one and most were gone by the half.
Jordy Storm didn’t go anywhere. From the student section’s bleachers the senior later joked “When it comes to Fordham, it’s the women’s teams that win.” Months later Storm proved that, despite speaking with a smile, she wasn’t really joking. While the women’s basketball squad continued their dominance as New York City’s winningest hoops team (men’s or women’s, college or pro) over the past seven seasons, Storm was slashing her way to All-League honors for Fordham’s softball team. Coincidentally, they too were trying to keep hold over a seven year reign of dominance.
Actually, the story of the 2019 softball club begins in 2018. That’s when the belief that the region’s winningest college softball team would endlessly go unchallenged suddenly came into question. It happened the moment Bridget Orchard, the builder and architect of Fordham’s softball program, announced her resignation. Like her women’s basketball counterpart, Stephanie Gaitley, Orchard was a Villanova product called in to turn a hapless collection into a regional power. Before her arrival in 2002 Fordham had never experienced a single winning season. By 2003 the Rams were starting a run of 16 straight winning ones. All 16 were 30-win seasons.
By 2010 Orchard was able to take things to the next level as her squad garnered its first ever NCAA Tournament appearance. They’d continue to make the tournament in every year but one afterwards. Even that one, back in 2012, was highlighted by a victory over eventual National Champions, Alabama. But after all the victories Orchard eventually left to take the skipper’s position at her alma mater. Cablevision’s News-12 dubbed Orchard’s departure as “The End of An Era for Fordham Softball.” Perhaps they were being premature but the later losses of Paige Rauch, arguably Fordham’s best player ever, and Ryan Henry, Fordham’s top recruit (both followed Orchard to the Main Line) as well as the club’s best pure power hitter, Skylar Johnston, who transferred to NC State, did make it seem as if the era was over.
Enter Melissa Inouye.
The Hawaii native and former UNLV team captain first came to Fordham in 2012 after various coaching stops in SEC country. She served as an assistant to Orchard before landing her first head coaching gig at nearby Iona. There she won two MAAC Coach of the Year honors before returning to Rose Hill to, not only fill some very large shoes, but to rebuild somewhat as well. Again, somewhat. It’s not as if Inouye was inheriting softball’s facsimile of Fordham football but there was no hiding the roster losses either. For six straight years A-10 coaches picked Fordham to win the league’s championship. For six straight years those same coaches were proven correct. This year the near unanimous choice went to UMass with one vote (coaches don’t generally vote for themselves) going to GW. Fordham finished tied for second in the pre-season tally although even that seemed optimistic after a 7-16 start.
But as a tough out-of-conference schedule was replaced with a milder A-10 one, fortunes quickly changed. Despite the diminished roster, it was same as it ever was in terms of conference wins. Jordy Storm backed up some big talk with a big bat that had her lead the way with a .421 on base percentage and .636 slugging percentage. The senior second baseman also picked up her batting average by 80 points from the year before. She wasn’t the only one. Senior right fielder Maria Trivelpiece, raised her batting average 70 points from the previous season. Senior catcher Molly Roark, and sophomore third baseman Rachel Hubertus, both bench players last year, each more than doubled their respective batting averages this year. Then there’s junior pitching ace, Maddie Aughinbaugh. Not only did her ERA drop from a respectable 2.99 to a more intimidating 2.54, but at the plate she too saw an 80 point climb in batting average. All helped as the team’s batting incredibly jumped from a .271 average last year, to a school-record .312 this year.
Mississippi State head football coach, Joe Moorhead often preached a “Next Man Up” mentality during his Bronx tenure. To demand more from replacements no matter who they were replacing. With her women, Coach Inouye put that talk into action. Somehow she got her entire team on board. Somehow batting averages soared as Aughinbaugh became practically un-hittable against conference foes. Somehow she proved that Orchard’s shoes could be filled. By regular season’s end the Rams stood all alone in first place and in position to win their seventh straight A-10 post-season title. Although Fordham proved they could conquer the loss of star players and a future Hall of Fame coach, they could not conquer the weather.
Staged at UMass, the double-elimination tournament seemed as if it would culminate with a one game showdown between the 3-1 Rams and 3-1 GW Colonials. Monsoon-like conditions kept that deciding game from ever happening. Instead it was cancelled as the A-10 named Fordham and GW co-champions. The conference’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament went to Fordham as a result of winning the regular season crown. Still, as a school presser showed, the team was disappointed that this year’s celebration had to take place in a bus instead of on the field. Not that anything else about the 2019 season should be considered disappointing. In fact, even with the rainout, senior centerfielder Chelsea Skrepenak was quick to put things in proper perspective.
In front of cameras during the school’s NCAA Selection Show gathering she summed things up by stating “Out of all my years (and) with the coaching change, and we lost some girls that should have been on the team and just all the adversity that we faced, it definitely means the most this year. Now it didn’t end necessarily the way we wanted it to, it didn’t feel as good as we wanted it to, but in terms of upholding the legacy and feeling like we earned something, this year out of all years really feels the best.”
It’s the legacy Jordy Storm talked about months ago. At Fordham, women’s teams win. Regionally at least. We’ll see how they stack up nationally after flying out to Seattle to take on Washington in the NCAA Tournament. The Huskies are the third ranked team in the country and a huge favorite but just getting into the 2019 Dance seemed pretty improbable after the 2018 season. And for that the Rams did earn something.