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Penn State's Softball Turnaround Is Hard To Ignore

penn state softball Photo by Mark Selders_Penn State Athletics.jpg
(Photo by Mark Selders/Penn State Athletics)

Just two years ago during the 2021 season, Penn State's softball team went 7-34. A few years earlier in 2018, the team went 9-41. Now, coming off the 2023 season with a record of 31-16, the Nittany Lions are showing signs of a sustained resurgence.

Among the reasons for the program's recent success is due to the hiring of head coach Clarisa Crowell prior to the 2021 season. Before joining PSU, Crowell had spent time coaching four other programs, most notably as the head coach for Miami (Ohio) for eight seasons, where she led the RedHawks to the MAC Tournament title in 2016.

When Crowell came to Penn State, she brought with her a coaching philosophy centered around “comprehensive excellence,” she says.

“We’re going to be great people and we’re going to excel at a high level both on the field and in the classroom,” Crowell told Softball America.

The three main values of the program Crowell helped instill were “family, blue-collar (mentality) and toughness.”

“Those are things that we talk to our student-athletes every day about,” Crowell said. “Now that I’m going into year four, I’ve had our student-athletes understand what we expect as a program and culturally what we’re going to be about.”

During Crowell’s first year with the program, the Nittany Lions could not catch a break, losing 13 games by one or two runs. On top of dealing with Covid restrictions, their competition was tough, as they played all of their games against Big Ten opponents.

“Our staff knew that we had a special team, our kids just needed to figure out how to win,” Crowell said. “I do think the schedules played a part in that because to be able to go from a 23-game Big Ten schedule to 44 games where all we did was play Big Ten opponents, that was a challenging thing.”

That season, the program became stronger, even though the results may not have reflected that fact. The following year, in 2022, Penn State made big strides.

“Year two, our (student-athletes) went into that year really hungry for success,” Crowell said.

In 2022, Crowell's team put Penn State's program on the map, winning 25 more games than in the previous year, which marked the biggest turnaround in wins in all of Division I softball. With a record of 32-22 and a 13-10 record in the Big Ten, PSU made the Big Ten Tournament quarterfinals, losing to Nebraska, that year’s Big Ten champions.

“The credit goes to (the student-athletes) because of their determination, work ethic (and desire) to turn this thing around,” Crowell said.

This past season, the Nittany Lions started off hot, winning each of their first seven games. At the 2023 Big Ten Tournament, PSU advanced to the quarterfinals again and ended the season 11-11 in conference matchups, showing signs of a trend in a better direction.

The Nittany Lions had several players produce at high levels in 2023, including leaders like Emily Maddock (.439 batting average, 43 hits and 14 RBIs) and Kaitlyn Morrison (.338 batting average, seven home runs, 14 doubles and 34 RBIs), who will both be returning to the Nittany Lions next season.

But with the program graduating many of its primary players from the last three seasons, next year’s Nittany Lions will have to deal with the challenges that come with that.

“Things are going to look a little different,” Crowell said. “You’re always sad to see your players go, but at the same time, our staff is excited to see new student-athletes come into the program.”

Last season, Penn State was ranked 44th in RPI, which marked the highest ranking in program history. Although the Nittany Lions came up short of reaching the NCAA Tournament in 2023, the program's turnaround is certainly hard to ignore.

“We want to get to regionals,” Crowell said. “That was the goal of last year’s team. Although we fell a little short, we’re excited about the opportunity to get to the postseason this year.”


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