Where No DePaul Softball Team Has Gone Before
Feb. 27, 2015
(Last in a series of feature stories portraying the Class of 2015 honorees being inducted Saturday into the DePaul Athletic Hall of Fame)
The formal induction ceremony and banquet takes place at 6:30 p.m. Saturday at McGrath-Phillips Arena.
There's nothing quite like accomplishing something for the first time.
In fact, it was so new that the Blue Demons messed up a little on their postgame celebration after beating Michigan State 2-0 to capture the Illinois-Chicago regional and a WCWS berth.
"I remember my catcher Katy Carter calling time out and coming to the mound to discuss the postgame celebration," said winning pitcher Nicole Terpstra Wondaal. "I was supposed to jump up into her arms. But when that last out was recorded, all I could do was hug her with both feet on the ground.
"She was right. I should've jumped into her arms and had her carry me---that would've made for a much cooler photo."
There would be more photo-op moments at the World Series, especially after this team of unknowns upset No. 2 Arizona 1-0.
Katy Carter Potts said: "To go to the World Series, it's such a big event. No DePaul softball team had done this before. We didn't know what to expect. Nobody expected us to be there. It made you realize that now we have to prove ourselves."
And they did it right off the bat, extending powerful UCLA to the limit before succumbing 3-2 in nine innings at their WCWS opener.
"This was a UCLA team that was 63-6 and featured one of the finest hitters of all-time in Stacey Nuveman who led the nation that season with 31 home runs and 91 RBIs," said DePaul coach Eugene Lenti. "UCLA hit a crazy number of home runs (95), and we held them down in the World Series."
The upstart Blue Demons were actually one pitch away from pulling off a stunning upset. Wondaal had the Bruins off balance even as RBI singles by Liza Brown and Julie Luna Henriquez gave the Blue Demons a 2-1 lead.
Mighty UCLA was down to its last strike when Christie Ambrosi's RBI single extended the game into extra innings until Crissy Buck's walk-off home run in the bottom of the ninth.
"When it comes to the UCLA games, I remember looking at these girls and seeing how big they were," Wondaal said. "Stacey Nuveman was as tall as my dad! And they were fit. We didn't have a strength and conditioning coach back then, so assistant coaches Leigh Podlesny and Sara Hayes devised the best plan they could and we were fit. But these girls were ripped. Nuveman led the nation in home runs, RBIs and walks (many intentional). All their batting averages were very high.
"How did we keep them in check? We tried to keep them off balance and keep them guessing. I don't think they were used to seeing a pitcher like me who wasn't going to overpower anyone but could locate and make the ball move.
"The biggest reason we kept their offense in check was because of our defense. I trusted my defense and knew they were going to do everything they could to make the plays behind me. And for four years, that's certainly what they did. My teammates made the routine play every game, every day. They made the difficult plays look easy. And they made some spectacular plays.
"Look at Katy's CNN Play of the Day, Dana Jakusz laying out on a diving catch in center field. We had a defensive shift leaving Tami Bouck Slager all alone on the right side of the infield. I made a couple mistakes where the defense couldn't defend those mistakes. But my defense was something I was very proud of, and they made it easier to pitch in every game."
DePaul rebounded with back-to-back 1-0 elimination-game victories over Southern Miss and five-time WCWS champion No. 2-ranked Arizona on the same day in reaching the Final Four. Henriquez's solo home run was enough for Wondaal who shut down Southern Miss on three hits and struck out 10. Henriquez's RBI double in the fourth inning against Arizona brought home Yvette Healy with the winning run as Brown fired a two-hitter.
That Blue Demon win snapped Arizona's streak of reaching the title game seven years in a row.
"I don't think anyone at the World Series or anyone who followed college softball would have picked DePaul to win that game," Lenti said. "But the little school under the El tracks rose up and beat them.
"I think we captured a lot of people's hearts down at Oklahoma City. We were the lowest-seeded team and a Catholic school that didn't play football and had no facilities. How could we wind up at the college softball World Series?"
In the semifinals, the Blue Demons took a 1-0 lead when pinch-runner Molly Sircher stole home in the second inning after Stacey Nuveman threw to second as Potts got into an intentional rundown.
"In that rundown, my first thought was not to get thrown out," Potts said. "After I drew the throw from their catcher, I kept telling myself not to get tagged out. I had to stay in the rundown long enough for Molly to score."
Potts made a series of defensive gems highlighted by a diving catch of pop-up over her left shoulder that went to the back of a very deep backstop. UCLA's base runner tagged up and broke for second. Potts nailed her with a perfect throw. That effort earned Potts the "CNN Play of the Day."
After that, whenever Potts came to the plate, teammates and fans in the stands would chant: "CNN, CNN" over and over. Her defense brought her a spot on the all-tournament team along with WCWS hitting star Henriquez.
UCLA's Lyndsey Klein was on first base with no outs in the bottom of the eighth inning and the dangerous Nuveman coming to the plate. Lenti placed his outfielders against the fence and positioned three infielders on the left side of second base. "To me, she's the best hitter in college softball,'' Lenti told reporters afterwards. Nuveman foiled the Lenti shift by hitting a line drive into the left-center field gap to end DePaul's glorious season. Wondaal (27-4) pitched her heart out in limiting the high-powered Bruins to a pair of runs and striking out six.
"I can't say enough about DePaul," UCLA coach Sue Enquist told the Chicago Tribune. "They sent a message to this (Western) part of the country. They are no fluke. They are a class act."
The Blue Demons finished No. 3 in the final NFCA/USA Today Top 25 poll behind national champion UCLA and runner-up Washington. Five teams from the UIC regional wound up in the Top 25.
"That team was the best in DePaul history, and they proved it on the field, Lenti said "We had terrific pitching depth with Liza and Nicole. The year before, they helped us lead the nation in earned-run average. There was great senior leadership from Nicole, Liza, Yvette Healy and Karen Stewart.
"It's not easy to put together such a decorated group. Liza, Nicole and Shavaughne Desecki were All-Americans while Yvette and Karen were Academic All-Americans. We had a lot of the top local recruits and then had Liza transfer in from Cal State Fullerton and Katy Carter Potts from Fresno State. Katy gave us the strength at catcher that we needed.
"Liza was not only one of the best pitchers, but she was one of the best overall softball players in the country. She could play all three outfield positions and just about anywhere in the infield. Karen at shortstop and Yvette at second base gave us a great combination up the middle."
Potts was an integral part of that strength up the middle.
"In my four years, this was the most cohesive team," Potts said. "It was like we could anticipate each other's moves. We didn't have to do much thinking---just go up there and play."
Wondaal (27-4, 0.70 ERA) and the Blue Demons had a season they will never forget.
"Our 1999 team was so special because we had each a part of the puzzle," Wondaal said. "Not only did we have the ability, but we also had the intangibles---those things that can't be taught. We had players rising to the challenge and didn't have one star. We had many stars. It was truly a team effort with everyone understanding and fulfilling their role.
"The last component that came together was our mental toughness because of all the adversity we had gone through leading up to this season. We beat Washington in one of our first tournaments, and that was a good indicator of our potential."
Wondaal recalled how pitching coach Leigh Podlesny challenged them to become mentally tougher and develop into complete pitchers and not just throwers. She marveled at the patience of assistant coach Sara Hayes as the offense evolved into more than just a contact-hitting attack.
And there were Lenti's creative strategies and run-manufacturing risks that helped to even the playing field in Oklahoma City.
"The Hall of Fame induction is a wonderful tribute to our 1999 team," Wondaal said. "We worked very hard and became such good friends through all the victories, through all the tough practices and games and through the balancing act required of a Division I student-athlete.
"I am so looking forward to seeing everyone, and I know we're going to share a lot of laughs. We had a lot of fun together, and I think we'll pick up right where we left off.
"That's the sign of true friendship---being away for a long period of time and being able to just sit back, laugh and catch up.
"And that will be us Saturday---old friends reunited to accept a memorable tribute for all our hard work and success."
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