‘We worked for it’

Published 2:36 pm Tuesday, May 29, 2018

I still remember my postgame interview with Fuqua School Varsity Softball Head Coach Mike Ford last year at Dinwiddie Sports Complex following his team’s 3-1 loss in the state title game to No. 3 Southampton Academy. It was a sad moment in time for Ford and the No. 1-seeded Lady Falcons. They had put together a tremendous season, and even with the loss in the final, they still had an impressive overall record of 15-4.

But I remember how Ford already had his focus on the next season. He was formulating a plan even then for Fuqua to be better at the start of the 2018 season than they were at the end of their 2017 campaign.

Teams tend to come together as a cohesive whole over the course of an entire season, and the best teams peak late, similar to how the Lady Falcons did in 2017. They won 13 of their last 14 contests entering that state title game, including a 7-5 victory over Southampton.

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Consequently, wanting his team to be better at the start of this season than it was in peak form last year was an ambitious expectation. This expectation was in service of the goal of making sure this year ended with a win in the state championship game.

Also serving that goal was the nature of the team’s 2018 regular season schedule. Ford said he asked Fuqua Athletic Director Charles Thomas to give his players a challenging schedule, and Thomas obliged.

The Lady Falcons play in Division III of the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association (VISAA), but during the regular season, among other opponents, they took on the top four teams from Division II, thrice facing eventual Division II state champion Isle of Wight Academy. Fuqua went 1-2 against the Lady Chargers.

The best coaches often set a tone of making practices so challenging that the games seem easy by comparison. Drawing a parallel between this and Fuqua’s 2018 campaign, the Lady Falcon’s regular season was like practice, and the VISAA Division III state tournament was like their games.

They entered the tourney as the No. 2 seed this time. In the May 15 quarterfinals, they routed visiting No. 7 Broadwater Academy 15-0. Then May 21, back at the Dinwiddie Sports Complex, they faced their archrival No. 3 Southampton Academy in the semifinals. There would be no loss this time. In its place was a dominant 9-2 victory for Fuqua.

Upstart young No. 4 Kenston Forest School upset No. 1 Brunswick Academy in the other semifinal, but the battle-tested and more experienced Lady Falcons would not be denied.

I arrived at the final about midway through after coming from the baseball state title game that had ran long. Fuqua’s girls were leading 15-0 after three innings, creating an atmosphere that was so strange. The mood was light, fans were chatting casually with each other and the tone of the proceedings was what you might expect at an exhibition game. The contest was essentially over. With no mercy rule in effect, the game just needed to progress to its formal conclusion in the seventh inning. Ford subbed out some starters midway through the game, and Fuqua’s first softball state title since 2002 came with a 17-2 final score.

For some, words like “anticlimactic” come to mind, but what I couldn’t help but think about was Ford’s plan a year ago and the girls’ commitment to it. They had earned this dominant, non-dramatic finish. Sometimes when you put in the hard work, what you thought was going to be the biggest test turns into a breeze. With this in mind, I enjoyed this finish for the Lady Falcons (16-5).

“We worked for it,” sophomore catcher Carmen Reynolds said of the title. “We’ve all put in work at practice, out of practice, everything.”

The girls’ joy in what their hard work had brought them was abundant after the final.

“I’ve been waiting for this since I started playing with Fuqua,” senior center fielder Alexa Marzloff said. “I’ve been waiting for this since I was a freshman, because we got one step closer every year, and for it to finally be here and for this to finally be the year, I can’t even describe it. I am SO happy!”

And Coach Ford was able to draw the perfect contrast with that 2017 postgame interview.

“We talked about the feeling last year when we came in second, and we didn’t want to do that again,” he said. “We had to go get it, and we went and got it, so I’m real proud of them.”

TITUS MOHLER is the sports editor for The Farmville Herald and Farmville Newsmedia, LLC. His email address is Titus.Mohler@FarmvilleHerald. com.