Trans­fer rule shakes up col­lege soft­ball

ASU loses key play­ers in less re­stric­tive sys­tem

The Arizona Republic - - Sports - Jeff Met­calfe MICHAEL CHOW/THE REPUB­LIC

The col­lege soft­ball world changed in Oc­to­ber.

A less re­stric­tive trans­fer sys­tem cre­ated what Ari­zona State coach Tr­isha Ford calls “ab­so­lute chaos,” not only in her pro­gram, which lost two key play­ers from its 2018 Women’s Col­lege World Se­ries team, but through­out the coun­try less than four months be­fore the start of the 2019 sea­son.

All-Amer­ica ju­nior pitcher Giselle Juarez left ASU for Ok­la­homa and sopho­more first base­man Danielle Gib­son (NFCA All-West re­gion sec­ond team) for Arkansas. Also Terra McGowan, a fresh­man in­fielder yet to play for the Sun Devils, is trans­fer­ring to a yet unan­nounced des­ti­na­tion. Some oth­ers in­clud­ing Bri­anna Wise (now at Long Beach State). Fa Leilua and Alyssa Loza (both at Mis­sis­sippi State) left af­ter last sea­son be­cause of the rule change.

ASU still in tran­si­tion

For ASU fans, who be­lieved soft­ball had sta­bi­lized af­ter Ford be­came the fourth coach in five years in 2017, the trans­fers brought a rush of anx­i­ety. Par­tic­u­larly be­cause Juarez, a lo­cal player from Glen­dale, is so high pro­file and be­cause all was seem­ingly well with the Sun Devils af­ter a 48-13 sea­son that took them back to the WCWS for the first time since 2013.

“We’re still in a tran­si­tion pe­riod,” Ford said. “Some­times it just takes every­body some time to find their right fit. I would an­tic­i­pate one more (tran­si­tion) cy­cle. That’s just how it is.”

And now, trans­fers in soft­ball and other Di­vi­sion I sports with­out the re­quire­ment of sit­ting out a sea­son un­less within a con­fer­ence, are the new norm.

The trans­fer rule took ef­fect Oct. 15, al­low­ing ath­letes to sub­mit a writ­ten in­tent to trans­fer then be en­tered into a na­tional trans­fer data­base, al­low­ing con­tact with other schools. Cur­rent schools can­not re­strict where an ath­lete can trans­fer but are al­lowed to can­cel schol­ar­ship aid for the next se­mes­ter.

Juarez and Gib­son an­nounced via so­cial me­dia they were leav­ing ASU on Oct. 30 and had their new des­ti­na­tions — where they will play start­ing in Fe­bru­ary — se­lected by mid-Novem­ber.

The 2018 Pac-12 cham­pion, Ore­gon, has been hard hit too, los­ing six play­ers in­clud­ing All Pac-12 pitcher Mi­randa Elish and two oth­ers to Texas, where for­mer Ducks coach Mike White moved af­ter last sea­son.

Wild, wild west

“The in­tent was for it to stop tam­per­ing,” by col­lege coaches go­ing through sum­mer team coaches to poach play­ers, Ford said. “It’s only made it worse. Ba­si­cally, it’s like the wild, wild west.”

Al­ready coaches are float­ing the idea of lob­by­ing to tweak the trans­fer rule so that once a player starts the process, she must sit out a se­mes­ter in­stead of year as pre­vi­ously re­quired with­out a re­lease from her cur­rent school. That would not pre­vent a player from leav­ing be­fore a dead­line, say July 1, and still play­ing in the spring se­mes­ter. But it would give schools more pro­tec­tion from los­ing play­ers they were count­ing on hav­ing in the fall.

Take left-handed Juarez, who was 26-6 as a sopho­more with 305 strike­outs. That’s a big hit to ab­sorb at Hal­loween not to men­tion los­ing Gib­son’s bat (12 home runs, 39 RBI, .633 slug­ging per­cent­age).

With­out Juarez and Loza, ASU has no re­turn­ing pitch­ers, also los­ing 2018 se­niors Bre­anna Macha and Dale Ryn­dak.

“It changes your dy­nam­ics,” Ford said. “You can choose how you want to deal with it. We talk (to play­ers) about be­ing com­fort­able with be­ing un­com­fort­able and how to face ad­ver­sity. If I de­mand that out of them then they should ab­so­lutely de­mand it out of me.

“So it’s im­por­tant for me to take this head on, and that’s what we’re do­ing. I’m not go­ing to sit here and say it doesn’t hurt, but we’ve all been hurt. Are you go­ing to cry about it and mope or get up and punch back. It’s chal­leng­ing for me in a good way, let’s go to work.”

Trans­fer give and take

Cer­tainly ASU can com­plain only so much about ex­it­ing trans­fers.

In­com­ing trans­fers Maddi and Kin­dra Hack­barth, Mor­gan Howe — all from Fresno State, Ford’s pre­vi­ous coach­ing stop — and Jade Gortarez from Texas were key starters last sea­son. Even Juarez first signed with Fresno State be­fore be­ing re­leased af­ter an ap­peal to play for Ford at ASU.

In July, 2018 Big West Pitcher of the Year Cielo Meza trans­ferred to ASU from Long Beach State. The ju­nior right-han­der (22-5, 1.46 ERA in 2018) now could wind up as the leader of a staff that in­cludes fresh­men Abby An­der­son of Chan­dler and Mikayla Santa Cruz of Tuc­son.

As for first base, Ford has op­tions in sopho­more De­nae Chat­man, ju­nior Maddi Hack­barth among oth­ers and be­lieves that her team will be ca­pa­ble of­fen­sively with the re­turn of its top two hit­ters (Kin­dra Hack­barth, Howe).

In Novem­ber, the Sun Devils signed eight play­ers in­clud­ing catcher Macy Sim­mons of Chan­dler, in­field­ers Aly­nah Tor­res of Glen­dale and Jazmine Hill and out­fielder Jor­dyn VanHook whose col­lege ca­reers will be­gin in 2019-20.

“You’re go­ing to see some spec­i­mens step­ping on the field,” Ford said. “We hit a bump this year. We’ll see if it’s a bump, but what we have com­ing in and what this pro­gram is go­ing to look like in three years is why I got hired. The ex­pec­ta­tion of what ASU soft­ball should be.

“We gave fans a taste of what we’re ca­pa­ble of do­ing. We’re go­ing to have a good prod­uct again this year, and it’s just go­ing to get bet­ter. My money’s al­ways go­ing to be on us.”

ASU short­stop Jade Gortarez, a trans­fer from Texas, played her first game with the Sun Devils last Fe­bru­ary.

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