In 2018, Mike White was one of the hottest softball coaches in the nation, having taken the Ducks softball program he inherited in 2010 to unprecedented heights. He had taken the Ducks to five WCWS appearances. The issue of pay commensurate with that kind of success came up, and it was clear that the UO did not want to significantly increase his yearly salary of $237,500. Texas did, however. Texas has long been a perennial softball powerhouse and they wanted the best coach they could find. They found it in White, to the tune of $450,000/year.
So the Oregon Ducks had an over-achieving program and a great coach used the Oregon program to vault in with the big boys. Sound familiar?
In no way can one fault Mike White. The move was a no brainer.
Oregon then hired its current softball coach, Melyssa Lombardi, from Oklahoma (another midwestern powerhouse). Coach Lombardi was an assistant coach and an associate head coach at Oklahoma from 1997-2018. That was after being an all-conference catcher for the Sooners, where she graduated in 1997.
There were the expected bumps in her first season. It was her first head coaching job and there were a number of star Ducks players that followed Mike White to Texas. Coach Lombardi did the best that could be expected with the cards she was dealt and ended her freshman coaching season with a 22-30 season in 2019.
But the wheels of progress were turning, and the much-improved 2020 Ducks bounded out with a 22-2 non-conference record before the pandemic put a halt to all sports in March.
Last year was a breakthrough of sorts for coach Lombardi’s Oregon program. At one point midway through the season, the Ducks were ranked as high as #3 in the nation. The Pac-12 is arguably the best conference in softball, so Oregon was bound to do some dropping in the rankings. Regardless, their effort earned them a spot in the NCAA tournament, where they eventually were eliminated in the Austin Regional by - you guessed it - Texas.
The Oregon Ducks enter the 2022 with high expectations and they are seeing the results of a program that is now fully coach Lombardi’s. Lombardi underlined this at the softball media day, saying “This year, this is the deepest we’ve ever been since I’ve been here. It’s amazing when you have that competition (at every position) and what that does for you.”
Oregon enters the season ranked #16 in the NCAA D1Softball rankings. Four other Pac-12 teams start the season in the top 25: UCLA at #4, Washington at #7, Arizona at #15, and Arizona State at #21. The Pac-12 conference will again be highly competitive in 2022.
The Ducks start their season this Thursday, 2/10, against SEC team Ole Miss in California. They will then be rounding out their opening weekend in the UCLA tournament.
Their non-conference schedule then starts to ramp up, with the following weekend playing in Texas against Texas State and Baylor.
The weekend of Feb 25-27 will find Oregon at the Mary Nutter Collegiate Classic in Cathedral City, CA. All five teams that the Ducks face will test them, especially #23 Northwestern and #10 Missouri.
Before we look too far into the future, Oregon has this weekend’s opening games. What does coach Lombardi look for in these early games, after a spring of playing and competing against one own’s teammates? “The main thing I want to see is: where are we? Going into the first weekend, we’re going to have some nerves; there’s no question. What I want to see more than anything is the work that this group has put in...trust the process, trust what they’ve done up to this point. Now let’s play together, versus constantly playing against each other.”
After traveling to North Carolina in the first week of March, the Ducks open up at home in the Oregon/Oregon State Tournament on March 11-12. Conference play begins the following weekend against Utah in Salt Lake City.
You can listen to this coming weekend’s games on KWVA 88.1 FM. You can also watch the Friday afternoon games against CSUN on ESPN+