Oregon's Melyssa Lombardi Finally Has Depth Needed To Win
Roster building is just one of the many tasks that a college softball head coach deals with. Planning for the future in recruiting, finding impact players through the transfer portal to fill voids and having depth in case of injury consumes much of the job. In the case of Oregon’s Melyssa Lombardi, she’s been able to bring in the pieces for her program through some of the toughest circumstances.
Oregon's roster faced a mass exodus following Mike White’s departure from the program three seasons ago. That left Lombardi with one of the shallowest rosters in collegiate softball. In 2019, Oregon still had a relatively successful year despite missing the postseason. Last season, however, the Ducks matched their 2019 win total and headed into conference play at 22-2 before the season was canceled due to COVID-19.
Seniors Haley Cruse and Samaria Diaz return for an additional season for a team that brings in an athletic group of freshmen for 2021.
“This team this year is our deepest roster that we’ve had since we’ve been here,” Lombardi said. “These guys definitely walk into the weight room or step onto the field (and) they’re locked in. They have very good intent behind what they’re doing and I think it’s because they know how talented we are.”
Fall practices have been more competitive in Eugene, Ore. this year, especially at the shortstop position. Oregon received a surprise that Jasmine Sievers would be opting out of the 2020 season after announcing she is expecting a baby. Lombardi mentioned that returners Allee Bunker or Vallery Wong could slide into that position or either freshmen Tehya Bird or Alyssa Brito could earn the spot.
To Cruse, one of the Ducks from White’s regime, the depth of the 2020-21 Oregon team is pleasing.
“A couple of years ago, news about Jas would’ve left us not knowing what to do as a team,” Cruse said. “It’s really cool that we have a lot of talent coming in and a lot of talent returning. The fact that we are able to have people competing for that spot is amazing for us. We’ve never had this much depth. I just know that everyone doesn’t take it for granted because we know what it was like to have just one person at every spot on a good day.”
Cruse's “next woman up” mentality embodies the culture Lombardi has implemented since day one.
“It’s been tough, it’s been hard, but this team has been pretty resilient. And they’ve been resilient since day one, our first season,” Lombardi said. “I compare them (to) a boxer. You get punched a couple of times, you get knocked down and they get right back up. This team always gets back up. That’s what I love about this team.”
Lombardi’s team has gone through an adjustment period with the added depth as well. Even at positions that aren’t up for grabs, the competition to push one another has brought a smile to Lombardi’s face.
Another thing that has brought a smile to her face is that Oregon's veteran leaders have taken hold of some of the leadership responsibilities. Lombardi mentioned as the team went over offensive plays on its armbands, the returners helped step in to guide the newbies.
“As coaches, every time we get on the practice field, we feel like we have a bunch to do and a lot to teach,” Lombardi said. “When you have returners, you don’t feel that as much. Getting the new ones to understand how to get on board, and (to) the returners, you pass the baton and allow (them) to do that.”
Lombardi heads into her third year as a Duck with a team flying in coordination with one another. Piece by piece, Oregon appears to be coming back on the horizon as a top softball program in the country.