Transfer rule shakes up college softball
ASU loses key players in less restrictive system
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.