Oregon Tries To Move Forward After Mass Exodus
Melyssa Lombardi arrived in Eugene less than a month after No. 1-ranked Oregon was eliminated from the Women’s College World Series.
Then came the exodus.
Nine players have left following coach Mike White’s departure, four of whom reunited with him at Texas. White’s importance to the program cannot be understated, and the athletic department’s failure to put out the fire that came with his exit came back to bite Oregon and Lombardi.
Oregon lost three of the nation’s best pitchers (Megan Kleist, Miranda Elish and Maggie Balint), rising outfielder Alyssa Pinto, star center fielder Shannon Rhodes, starting catcher Mary Iakopo, local phenom Lauren Burke, leadoff hitter Alexis Mack and first baseman and fan-favorite Mia Camuso.
“I think with the new NCAA portal it gives more opportunity and is quicker than before,” Lombardi said on Jan. 15, prior to Balint’s, Mack’s and Camuso’s departures. “I’ve said it many times: I didn’t want to see anybody leave. I support those athletes and if they felt like they needed to be somewhere else, then I support them and their decisions.”
Elish, Rhodes, Burke and Iakopo followed White to Texas and Pinto transferred to Ole Miss. Kleist will remain a student at Oregon before transferring to Louisiana for the 2020 season, while Balint, Mack and Camuso have yet to announce their destinations.
“I was texting all the girls asking if they were leaving or what they were doing,” said Elish. “A coach is one thing but the girls on that Oregon team were like my sisters so I didn’t want to jump ship because Coach White was leaving. We felt like if we stuck together we would be OK.”
It wasn’t okay and Elish packed her bags and was joined by Burke on a visit to Austin. After all, the reason she went to Oregon was for White.
“Everyone had a different reason, and when that reason is taken away you have to find another reason to stay, but sometimes they don’t add up to be the reason you came and that’s the frustration that I have,” Balint said.
After Terra McGowan was ruled ineligible to play after her transfer from Arizona State and Darya Kaboli-Nejad’s ACL tear, Oregon added five more players prior to the start of the season, bringing the active roster to 17.
Jordan Dail (Virginia Tech) and Maddie MacGrandle (Texas A&M) were brought in via transfer, but the pair pitched just 98 and 35 innings last year, respectively. They will be tested early and often when the season begins at Arizona State’s Kajikawa Classic on Feb. 8.
Kleist, Balint and Mack are all still on Oregon’s campus, taking classes before heading to their new schools. Their decisions to rather sit out the year than play for Oregon speaks volumes to the injustices that these players felt.
“Our opinions didn’t matter in this process because if it did, Missy Lombardi would not be our head coach,” Balint said. “Our staff would still be here at this point.”
Oregon was set to play Texas as part of the St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitation, but the game was removed from the schedule. An ESPN spokesperson told Softball America, “Once we solidified the 16-team field for the inaugural St. Pete/Clearwater Elite Invitational, we then worked through multiple variations for potential schedules for several weeks. Ultimately, the final schedule is determined by ESPN Events.”
The only way for the two teams to meet would have to be in the postseason. Until then, Texas opens the season at their own Texas Classic on Feb. 8.