UHV softball team continues ranking streak
By BY Thomas R. Martinez
April 5, 2011 at 11:01 p.m.
Updated April 10, 2011 at 11:11 p.m.
If you chose one word to describe the No. 12-ranked University of Houston-Victoria softball program, what would that word be?
During its first three years, the program tallied seasons of 32, 35 and 35 wins. This year, the Jaguars are on pace for another 30-win season, with a 24-12 record.
That winning brings a sweet reward: national rankings.
"I wasn't quite sure it would be so quick," head coach Keri Lambeth said. "I knew I wanted to build a legitimate top program."
The Jaguars have been ranked in the NAIA Top 25 since April 23, 2008.
They weren't ranked in the preseason poll of their first season in 2008.
A win over defending national champs, Oklahoma City University in the Orange Beach Classic, vaulted the Jaguars into their Top 25 in the 2008 season's first poll. They fell out for a few short weeks, but returned and have been permanent fixtures since.
"I really didn't expect to be ranked in the top 25," Lambeth said. "To see where we were, against Oklahoma City, it was eye opening.
"To be the best, you have to beat the best. From that moment on, I knew we could be legitimate contenders."
For those keeping track, the Jaguars have been ranked for 24 consecutive polls, with a high ranking of 10 in 2009 and a low ranking of 24 in 2008.
For you math geeks, the mean ranking for the Jaguars is 15.31. Their median ranking is 15, and their mode ranking (the number they've been ranked the most) is 15.
The Jaguars have seen 30 weeks of rankings since starting the program. Of those 30, UHV has been unranked only three times, though two of those three the Jaguars did receive votes in the Top 25.
"I did not do this by myself," Lambeth said. "We had 15 kids that first year; we did all this together. We put in the master plan for the foundation of the program."
A main difference between then and now is UHV can recruit freshman.
Back then, it was different, Lambeth said.
She could recruit only upperclassmen.
"That was the hardest part, convincing them they could make an immediate impact," Lambeth said.
One of the coach's selling points was her recruits could build the program from scratch, set records and blaze the trail.
"We could come and be part of a new program, be part of the first Jaguars," former player Brittany Faas said. "The girls who came wanted to be part of that. We took what she said really seriously."
Faas was the program's first three-year player, a talented catcher who now serves as the team's volunteer coach.
The early Jaguars had a chip on their shoulder.
"We came out with fire, and wanted to prove something," Faas said.
Now, Lambeth can recruit with a long-range plan, mixing in key JUCO transfers with talented freshmen.
The team now finds girls who want to continue to uphold the hard work that the founding players put in, Faas said.
"We get the young kids with heart you know who will work hard," Faas said.
Lambeth knew some of her freshman would be key contributors from the first time they stepped on the field.
"With right kids, with the right skills and right attitude, anything is possible," she said. "They've done a great job. They can only get better for each year they're here."
This season, several freshman have played roles for the Jaguars, which should ensure they remain in the Top 25 for years.
The rankings are nice, Lambeth admits, but every top team's goal is a national championship.
The Jaguars have been to nationals once, and were one win away last season from a second trip.
This year, UHV plays in their usual stacked, independent conference with three highly ranked teams and last year's national champions.
Two of those teams will be guaranteed a trip to nationals, so the only sure way to nationals is to win or finish second at the conference tournament.
"We just want to win our conference," Lambeth said. "Being ranked in top 25 doesn't necessarily secure you a spot in national championship tournament."
Now a legitimate program, UHV has the bull's eye on its jerseys.
"Everyone wants to beat the top-ranked teams," Lambeth said. "And now that's us."