Head coach Cristal Brown led the Whitworth softball team to their first conference title in the history of the program in the 2015 season. The fifth head coach to take charge of the team, Brown took up the role in 2011 and has led the team to improvements every season since. Brown’s previous softball experience includes lead-off batting in high school and college, becoming the Western State Junior College Player of the year in 1998. From 2008 to 2011, she was the head coach at the Kingsburg High School in California. She held an impressive 101-29 record over her four seasons of coaching. The team won four Central Sequoia League Championships, a Central Section crown in 2008 and were the Central Section runners-up in 2009. She was a Central Sequoia League Coach of the year honoree three times. She was also assistant varsity coach at Valencia High School for two years and assistant coached at The Master’s College.
“When I was young, I grew up without a whole lot of opportunity,” Brown said. “Softball gave me the opportunity to go to college and get my life on the straight and narrow path. I believe we have established a culture and a tradition that will continue to exist and that we can continue to achieve every year.”
At the beginning of the season, Randy Clark, long-time mentor from her time playing at The Master’s College and current softball assistant coach, suffered from a heart attack shortly before beginning the season. Brown said this occurrence caused the Whitworth women to “pull together for him” and led to the season being different than the others.
Indeed, the road to the successful season was marred by moments of discouragement; however, Brown served as a calming and inspirational force for the team, all the while providing the energy and confidence necessary to drive them along and make school history in spite of Clark’s health.
“During one of our games against George Fox, we were losing in the last inning,” junior catcher Megan John said. “Coach brought us together and told us that she trusted us to have her back. We came out that inning, and we won the game.”
The victory at George Fox was a crucial point of the season, as the victory placed them in first place for the conference tournament.
“She just spoke with a kind of energy that made us want to go out there and win,” sophomore utility player Shannon Wessel said. That game ended with Wessel hitting a grand slam that resulted in a Bucs victory.
The team ended up breaking the season record for wins and won a conference title—putting themselves on the map for years to come. The team was drawn together by a strong sense of both camaraderie and family, all due to Brown and her emphasis on team-building. During the season, Brown would call players aside numerous times to not only discuss strategy, but to inspire a sense of self-confidence needed in order to ensure victory.
“Just her saying those few words helped us get our act together and win,” freshman outfielder Chesley Hayes said.
The idea of family and holding each other accountable for actions is a strongly promoted ideal by Brown that is echoed across the team.
“She really has challenged us to live out being a family and supporting each other through everything we’re facing, softball or not,” John said.
The team notably donated a refrigerator toward the alternative school in Mead, as well as spent time with the students. Brown’s commitment to the team and the school is another factor that plays into her leadership style.
“I love Whitworth’s welcoming culture; it’s a great institution, and I feel like I can coach without conflict toward it’s academic mission,” Brown said. The team’s season has come to an end, as they will not be advancing to the NCAA tournament. For more information on Brown, visit whitworthpirates.com.