2002 Softball History
In 2002, Coach Lu Harris-Champer directed her third different program to the NCAA tournament, won her 300th game in just her sixth year of coaching and helped lead Georgia to its first post-season wins in the program's history. A 59-17 record, a No. 22 national ranking, and two All-Americans are evidence that the Bulldogs have arrived on the national scene and will be a hard team to overlook in years to come.
"I am so proud of what the team has done this year and what they've accomplished," Harris-Champer said. "Considering where we've come from I think now we are a force to be reckoned with and we will look to get better." Nicole Barber and Kim Wendland became the first Georgia players to be named Louisville Slugger/NFCA All-Americans when they were awarded Second and Third Team honors, respectively. Barber and Wendland were responsible for 54 percent of Georgia's SEC-leading 373 runs in 2002, as the two combined for 118 runs scored and 82 RBI.
Barber, a sophomore from Oregon City, Ore., set a new NCAA record with 73 consecutive successful stolen bases from April 25, 2001-April 27, 2002. Her 127 career steals are already third on the SEC's all-time list, including the single-season record of 71 which she set this year. She also set a new conference record with 105 hits this season that included 11 doubles, 12 triples, and two home runs. In the first week of the 2002 season, Barber extended a hitting streak that began during her freshman campaign to 16 games for a new Georgia record. Her nine three-hit games led the club and she played errorless ball in center field in 76 starts. Barber was named the SEC Player of the Week on April 8 and earned All-Tournament Team honors at the SEC Tournament.
Wendland, a redshirt freshman from Rock Island, Ill., led the SEC in hitting for the first half of the season and closed with the league's fifth-highest average at .394. She finished with a conference-leading 59 RBI and had hits in five of her final six games, including two singles against No. 1 UCLA. Twice this season, Wendland hit home runs in the fifth inning of games in Athens, which won two fans $1,000 each in a promotion held by the UGA Athletic Department. She was named the SEC Player of the Week on Feb. 19 and earned All-Tournament Team honors at the NCAA Regional.
"Both players led us offensively all season, whether it was scoring runs or getting a clutch RBI," Harris-Champer said. "That should not overshadow their outstanding defense. This is a great award that both players deserve."
When Harris-Champer won her 250th game in Georgia's 6-0 victory over Marshall on Feb. 9th, not too many people would've thought that by the end of the season she could reach 300. But in Georgia's first NCAA Tournament win, a 2-1 decision over Maryland-Baltimore County, Harris-Champer earned career victory No. 300 and has added one more win before the close of the year.
Harris-Champer's six-year record is 301-108 and she has now guided three different programs to the NCAA Tournament. She is seventh on the current list for winningest active head coaches by winning percentage on the Division 1-A level with at least give years experience.
The tone was set early for this year's club as the Bulldogs began the season with 24 straight wins, including tournament titles in Miami, St. Augustine, Tallahassee, and Athens. In that 24-game stretch, Georgia defeated two eventual NCAA Tournament teams, Florida State and Penn State, and SEC East rival Kentucky.
Pitchers Lacey Gardner and Michelle Green sparked the Bulldogs' early success, each winning nine games during the streak. Gardner's two-hit masterpiece over Florida State and Green's complete-game one-hitter over Penn State highlighted the undefeated start. At one point Gardner made four consecutive appearances (a total of 14 innings) without allowing a hit. Wendland was also an early surprise, hitting safely in 21 of Georgia's first 24 games.
Before the 2002 season the Bulldogs had never won more than 11 games in conference play and the club was quick to erase history by winning 18 games, including sweeps of Auburn, Arkansas, and Kentucky.
Barber led the way in all 30 league games, batting an SEC-high .490 with six triples, two homers, and 28 steals in 28 tries.
Georgia, which was picked by league coaches at the beginning of the year to finish third in the East, finished two games back of South Carolina for the division title and in fourth place for the overall SEC crown.
The No. 4 seed in the SEC Tournament matched the Bulldogs with Auburn in the opening round of the club's first postseason action in three years. Georgia played six games in the conference tourney, including a win over Auburn and three consecutive wins in elimination games. Nichole Urban pitched complete-game victories in two of Georgia's elimination games. Green, Barber, and Urban earned All-Tournament honors.
Georgia earned an at-large berth and a No. 2 seed for the NCAA Tournament and matched up with UMBC in the program's first action in NCAA play. Keeping with the postseason theme that began at the SEC Tournament, Georgia defeated the Retrievers in a one-run contest, 2-1, for the team's first NCAA win.
In Georgia's second NCAA win, Green no-hit South Carolina with four strikeouts, one walk, 14 pop-fly outs and three ground-ball outs. Losses to UCLA and South Carolina followed and ended the Bulldogs' season with a 59-17 overall record.
From the All-Americans to important role players Rachael Hawkins, Molly McWilliams, Julie Raiskums, Pam Stewart, and Katie Thrasher, every player on the roster made it possible for Georgia to make its postseason run in 2002. It will take another total team effort in 2003 to reach the goals that the Bulldogs already have in place.
"A season without regionals is not even worth having," Harris-Champer said. "I almost feel that way about the next level and we will definitely be shooting for the World Series next season."