Eastern Kentucky University softball has been a successful and a winning program, posting a 690-645 record over the past 25 years. Four weeks deep into the 2018 college softball season that record continues to grow, currently sitting at 701-650.
But, this record isn’t just the record of EKU softball. It is also the career coaching record of Head Coach Jane Worthington.
Worthington is an anomaly in college softball. She is one of just 32 active Division I head coaches with 700+ wins at just one institution, and one of just three in the Ohio Valley Conference, joining Jacksonville State’s Janna McGinnis and Southern Illinois University Edwardsville’s Sandy Montgomery. The Washington, Utah native is the only head coach that Colonels softball has ever known.
In 1992 a hiring staff, that included Hall of Fame football coach Roy Kidd, interviewed a gritty and fiery Worthington to start the softball program at EKU. They gave her a miniscule 99 dollar budget with two scholarships, but the one thing she didn’t have, and needed, was a field.
“When I first got here, there was no field,” Worthington laughed. “It went from nothing to a skinned infield. Everything was pretty adequate. It was really tough because we would get bad bounces all the time. I would have kids with black eyes and it was no wonder they were afraid of the ball. Now there’s no reason for it, because our grounds crew does such a good job grooming the field. If we make an error, it’s not the field.”
Worthington started seven walk-ons in season one.
Some say, “If it isn’t broke don’t fix it,” and Worthington’s coaching style definitely would not be considered “broke”. A huge contributing factor to this is that 20-of-25 seasons EKU has posted a .500 or better conference record, including every season since 2012.
But, she doesn’t feel like she ever stops learning or growing.
“It’s an ongoing process,” Worthington stated. “I’ve had to work at being a lot calmer. In the beginning, I was real fiery and I think I sometimes can still get there. Also, my priorities have changed. I don’t know if I was ever a ‘win at all costs’ coach but winning was and is still very important. I think that I’m better at looking at the long-term welfare of the student-athlete and trying to make sure that if we put people out there it’s not going to do any long-term damage to them mentally or physically. In the beginning, I was just in that invincible mode and felt like anyone could do anything, so just do it.”
She did offer up some advice though on things that need to stay the same…
“One thing that can’t change is your own personality,” the Utah native stated. “Hopefully the players in the beginning knew that I really cared about them and that they were, for the most part, the number one thing in my life. Hopefully the players now feel the same.”
With more than 700 wins, a coach sees a lot of different athletes come through a program and figures out what does and does not work for what they are trying to do. But, Worthington knew all along what kind of athlete she wanted to recruit and still does that.
“I still look for that gritty athlete,” explained Worthington. “I’m still looking for the one that just absolutely loves to play. If you can find that kid, that player, then everything else takes care of itself. Sometimes what is happening now, in my opinion, there’s a lot more players and a lot more talent. There’s also a lot more playing for a scholarship instead of just because they absolutely love it. If you can find the kid that’s playing because they love to compete you have a good thing.”
Twenty-six years is a long time for someone to be somewhere they never intended on staying. Worthington came to Eastern with the intention of jump-starting her career and then moving back home to be closer to her family.
“As I always say: There’s something about this place that draws you in and keeps you here,” she stated.
So, the question that is sticking in a lot of people’s minds, with dread of a possible negative answer, is this: When is the end of the era coming?
“I really don’t know,” Worthington answered. “That’s a tough question. For me, I’m just going to take it year by year and go as hard as I possibly can. I hope when I leave it is my choice. I think there’s a lot more that can be done, especially now that we have the facilities and support. We’ve done pretty well for the facilities in the past, but honestly what we have now is something special and it will be kind of cool to see what you do with this new support.”
The 700 wins milestone is a huge feat and staying somewhere long enough to do it at a single institution is something that has gone by the wayside.
What does this pinnacle mean to the program?
“I mean, I guess it’s significant,” Worthington shrugged. “But, we go out there and try to win every day whether it’s our 100th or 700th. Every single win matters and we are just trying to win for this team. The rest of the wins were great at the time but they are kind of in the past. It’s time to win for this team.”
It’s only fitting that the win came in a shutout victory. The Colonels did just that, defeating the University of Albany 4-0 on Sunday.
Eastern Kentucky University President Michael Benson put it best in a twitter post commenting on the win: “She [Worthington] is EKU softball.”
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