For Trisha Ford And Arizona State, 2020 Marks New Beginning
Balance comes in many forms. For Arizona State head softball coach Trisha Ford, one of her go-to coaching mottos emphasizes just that.
"You got to know when to give them some tough love or when to give them a hug when they need a hug," Ford said.
Ford's time in Tempe has seen the highest peaks and lowest valleys as she enters her fourth year. In 2018, the Sun Devils made a surprise run to Oklahoma City with a young roster. Despite the bright future ahead of them, the team was struck with uncertainty before the next season.
After the NCAA announced its changes to the transfer process in October 2018, All-American left-handed pitcher Giselle "G" Juarez and the powerful Danielle Gibson—later famed for her home run cycle—announced they'd be transferring from the program.
Outside of Oregon, Arizona State was one of the schools affected the most by the new transfer portal. Eight players, including Juarez and Gibson, left the team before the 2019 season. Former Sun Devil Terra McGowan, now at Oregon, told The Oregonian that Arizona State had a "divisive and toxic atmosphere."
Plenty of questions circled around Ford. Add in that away from the softball field, Ford's parents were troubled by the fires in Northern California at the time, and adversity certainly rained down.
"Last fall was hard," Ford said. "I'm just a big believer that things happen for a reason. God only gives you what you can handle. For me, it's just staying strong to my beliefs and what my vision is here."
Regardless of everything that occurred away from Farrington Stadium, Ford arguably put together a better coaching effort in 2019 than she did in 2018 when she won the Pac-12 Coach of the Year Award.
Carried by one of the ferocious offenses in the country, Arizona State finished fourth in the Pac-12 only behind the trio of Women's College World Series participants from the conference: UCLA, Washington and Arizona. The Sun Devils reached the Tuscaloosa Regional final, playing two highly competitive contests against Alabama.
Ford attributes that effort to her players, but they might have gained that battle-tested personality from their head coach.
"You have to deal with adversity and battle your way through," Ford said. "If you look at what our team did last year, that's a direct reflection of what our season was like. They battled their butts off and I was proud of them…It united them on the field. They really fought and that's more of a reflection of what this program is about."
The "second mom," as mentioned by a handful of her players, Ford is as straightforward as they come. Similar to her motto mentioned earlier, she knows when she needs to comfort her players and when it’s time to let them know she expects more out of them. And no one is safe from that. Kindra Hackbarth and Morgan Howe, the Sun Devils' pair of All-Americans, sometimes got the biggest earfuls from Ford.
The events of the previous year have not deterred Ford from that style, either.
"I think I have more tools in my toolbox," Ford said. "Life gives you a lot of experiences, but you learn as you go, and you get better at dealing with life. You become wiser... To the core, I'm the same person.
"This isn't a job to me. I feel like this is my passion and this is what I'm here to do on Earth. For me, I want to be a part of 18 to 22-year-olds. Being able to be a part of that, being able to guide. I don't feel like you should be doing this job if you don't truly care about each and every player."
Ford hasn't needed to adjust her coaching style, although she's had to adapt to the changes in college softball. With the transfer portal becoming one of the biggest factors in the game, Ford and every coach has needed to adjust.
"We're in this era where things are different when it comes to the role of the coach," she said. "Dealing with parents, dealing with players. There's going to be bumps…Last year was what it was, I still thought it was a great year. If you look at who's coming in, and what our recruiting classes are coming in, it says a lot about the direction of the program."
Headlined by Kindra Hackbarth, her twin sister Maddi Hackbarth and Jade Gortarez, a lot of the high-powered lineup returns for Arizona State in 2020. The question again won't be offense, but instead, what occurs in the circle. Ford, whose background is in pitching, will need to get the most out of second-year Sun Devils Cielo Meza, Samantha Mejia and Alabama transfer Madison Preston to make another deep postseason run.
And that's where Ford is focused. On the now. On the players who are in Tempe.
"For us, it's part of our past," Ford said. "It's something we learn from. But we're moving on to the future."