Back the Pac: How ASU and the Pac-12 are looking to end their Women's College World Series drought this year

ASU was the last Pac-12 team to win a national title

Deep within the confines of ASA Hall of Fame Stadium in Oklahoma City on Wednesday, some of the best college softball coaches in the country gathered to address the media prior to their opening games of the Women's College World Series on Thursday.

Sitting next to one another from right to left was Oklahoma head coach Patty Gasso, Washington head coach Heather Tarr, Oregon head coach Mike White and ASU head coach Trisha Ford, who all make up one side of this year’s Women’s College World Series bracket.

With Tarr, White and Ford sitting next to one another, the table at which the coaches were sitting had the looks of a metaphorical Mt. Rushmore of the Pac-12 conference.

“I feel a little uninvited up here with being a little out of the conference,” Gasso joked sitting next to the Pac-12 coaches. “Tough College World Series tournament. Probably the toughest top to bottom that I've seen or been a part of in a long time. There's no easy side.”

Four out of the eight teams in Oklahoma City this year hail from the Pac-12, and the conference had seven teams make this year’s NCAA tournament.



This comes as no secret that the Pac-12 is a lethal softball conference, with the “Conference of Champions” winning 24 out of the 36 national titles in the sport since 1982.

However in recent years, there has been the longest championship drought in the NCAA era, with six years separating the last time a Pac-12 school raised a national championship trophy. The previous longest drought was just two years.

There are a lot of reasons for the dry spell, including the growth and development of other power-five conferences such as the SEC and the Big 12. 

This postseason, the SEC sent every team from its conference to the NCAA tournament, yet only two have made it to the final stage in college softball (Georgia and Florida).

Although there has been friendly fire between conferences (UCLA eliminated Arizona, Georgia eliminated Tennessee), the Pac-12 has still managed to fill up half of the field in Oklahoma City. 

And while the conference has a strong showing, a Pac-12 school might not even be a favorite to win the tournament with the defending back-to-back national champion Oklahoma Sooners looking for a third straight crown.

But this year’s field is an intriguing one, with all the gun barrels of the Pac-12 glaring down at the Sooners and the rest of the teams.

“(It) just didn't happen that the four Pac-12 teams turned up here. It was something we identified several years ago at the Pac-12 meetings that we needed to get better as a conference and individually as teams,” White said. “I think you're starting to see that ... This is the strongest Pac-12 conference we've (seen) in quite a while ... Now, whether that's going to turn into a championship, I don't know, but it certainly is a lot of fun playing in a conference environment like that.”

So where does ASU fit into the whole picture?

Finishing the season at third in the conference and completely shattering a lot of preseason expectations, ASU has flourished in a league that is extremely difficult to play in.

Facing pitchers who throw in the high 60s, low 70s every weekend, and going up against hitters who can change a game with one swing of the bat, the Pac-12 can be devastating or uplifting to a team’s morale on any given weekend.

With tough competition on a weekly basis, every series in the conference has the feeling of a super regional, and ASU has wreaked the benefits of the atmosphere.

“I think our conference really prepared us for this (the postseason),” Ford said. “Each weekend we were playing Oregon, Washington, UCLA. You know, we just — we're fortunate, and some might say unfortunate, but I think we are fortunate that we get to, each week, play really high-caliber games, and so you are prepared when you get into postseason ... It’s one of the reasons why I came to ASU, is that you get to prepare every single weekend.”

The last time that the Pac-12 won a national title was in 2011 when ASU won it all. In tomorrow’s opening game, the Sun Devils will get set for a matchup with yet another conference foe in the Oregon Ducks.

And while some Pac-12 teams within the field might end up eliminating one another over the coming week, the hashtag “Back the Pac” has perhaps no stronger significance than this week’s games.

Whether it’s ASU or another Pac-12 team, the conference looks poised to make a strong push towards a title.


Reach the reporter at atbell1@asu.edu or follow @AndrewBell7 on Twitter.

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