Two time Olympian (Gold in 2004 and Silver in 2008), NCAA Softball champ with the Arizona Wildcats in 2001, and overall softball legend (for those too young to remember, Finch was to Softball what Alex Morgan is to Soccer right now) Jennie Finch spoke with CGB about a variety of softball related topics. While she also played some first base and holds a bunch of offensive records at Arizona, Finch is better known for being the ace pitcher of the Wildcats and then Team USA.
This is actually the second time that Jennie Finch has spoken to CGB, here is the interview from 2012, when the Cal Bears have already made the College World Series that year. Interestingly, Jennie Finch's collegiate career ended in the 2002 championship game when she lost 6-0 to Jocelyn Forest and the Cal Bears.
Without further ado, here is the interview (her answers are in bold).
Ruey Yen: How do you think Cal will fare in the postseason this year?
They are going to have a tough road ahead of them. This weekend is going to be tough. Michigan is a hot team right now, and they have great pitching. They are number 3 in the country and are such a competitor. But we all know that anything can happen. We all know that the Cal Bears will have a lot of chip on their shoulder having lost twice in Michigan in 2013 [also an Ann Arbor Regional]. So I think they will be very motivated. We know that the Pac-12 have prepared them well. If they can get to Megan Betsa [Wolverine ace with a 26-4 record and an ERA of 1.44] on the mound for Michigan, then they will have a chance. They have had a good Pac-12 season, where it's such a battle every week. They also swept Stanford there at the end, that's where you want to have some momentum.
Ruey Yen: So this year's Cal team is more offensive minded [already up to 2nd place in program history in run scored and RBI on the year] with just adequate pitching, in your opinion is that good or bad in the postseason?
Yeah, you know, I think it starts from the circle, for sure. Pitching, then defense, the hitting...timely hitting. The explosion of offense that is happening in our game is a wild and amazing ride to watch. [In the postseason,] it is going to be a matter of what pitching can hold the offense and control the offense, because you know runs are going to be scored. So [the rise of the offense in softball] has made things extremely interesting and anything can happen.
Ruey Yen: Have you had the chance to watch Cal at all this year? What is your opinion on our pitcher: Katie Sutherland-Finch? On most article and profile on her, they are always quick to point out how she has no relation to you.
[Laughs] No, that's the first time I have heard of it. That's pretty cool.
Ruey Yen: Well, Finch is a special name in softball.
No, I'm now out here in SEC country now in Louisiana so it's tough to follow all the Pac-12 teams. Arizona is obviously on my priority list.
Ruey Yen: Okay, so more general questions. Pac-10/12 have dominated the college softball landscape for a long time, but the last three winners have been two SEC team and Oklahoma [who does enjoy some home advantage with the College World Series taking place annually in Oklahoma City]. Is there more parity now?
The parity is there, I think. I think right now, we're SEC dominant right now, if you look at the top 10. But I think the Pac-12 is still right there, but it definitely does make things interesting. I think it speaks volume on how the game has grown all across the country. And the top three right now in Florida, Oregon, and Michigan forms a full circle around the country with talent. We've seen the number one shift so much this year, I think what is so special about our game is that anyone can compete and we're going to have to stay tune because there is not a UConn [of women's basketball] right now in our game. Everyone has been so close and the offense, like we have talked about, is extremely hot so you never know who is going to come out on top.
Ruey Yen: Even Oregon has not been a traditional softball powerhouse within the Pac. So there is a shift in where the talent are going. Do you think there are more talent coming from new places? Of course, softball is currently not in the Olympics. Is it more important for softball to make it back to the Olympics or have its World Cup becomes a bigger event [like soccer]?
So internationally, hopefully we can get softball back in the Olympics in 2020 in Japan given how popular our sport is...both baseball and softball. Domestically, we're lucky with all the television coverage of our game. Unfortunately, I think the other countries are taking a large hit. Luckily for us, our collegiate game is so strong and the coverage of it continues, that it's a big help to the growth of the game domestically and at that grassroot level. People can tune in to ESPN, the SEC network, the Pac-12 networks now and see our sport and I think that's huge. I grew up only able to watch baseball, but young girls now can watch softball. I think that is truly what has keep our sports there despite the elimination from the Olympics game.
Ruey Yen: Speaking of the US National team, Cal alum [and CGB Hall of Famer] Val Arioto is a star for that squad right now. Have you seen her play with the national team yet?
Well, I look forward to watch them compete this summer. Unfortunately, there isn't much time for them to get together. But they have the talent so it's exciting to see all the talent from all over the country on that team. The youth of that team is exciting as it enables the college stars to stand out on that international level.
Ruey Yen: Okay, I think I'm supposed to ask you about the Capital One Cup. Coincidentally, not only are Cal Softball ranked 19th in the country for softball but 19 is the current place for both the men and the women, separately, for Cal in the Capital One Cup. So how can the standings still change this late in the season?
Yeah, right now Stanford is leading but Penn State, Connecticut, and Florida are right there. If Cal is able to win the national championship, they would get 60 points added toward it which would catapult the Bears to a top 5 finish. I love the fact that it shine the light on female athletics collegiately and being the best athletic program in the country, but [the winner] also gets $200 000 for the women and for the men for student-athletes scholarships which is another huge bonus. So it's been an exciting to see how the college softball championship will determine the cup this year.
Ruey Yen: So the rich gets richer? The school that's already the best gets more money for scholarships? [I think the fact that I went to Cal came out right here...it is also implied/assumed here that I am referring to Stanford getting more money even though they didn't make the softball postseason.]
If they can pull it off. Florida is the top seed right now, so if they can pull off the national championship they can take down Stanford for the Cup. It all comes down to the end where a couple of good teams have a shot [for the Cup and the scholarships].
Ruey Yen: Somewhat surprising, Stanford actually hasn't won the last two cups on the women's side. On a related note, I don't know how much pull you have on this. I think the Cup only consider NCAA governed sports. On the men's side, sports like men's rowing and rugby are not NCAA sports due to tradition [Men's Crew, governed by IRA, wants the title to be awarded to the Varsity 8 boat rather than as a composite like NCAA championships for women's rowing]. Can they possibly be added to the list for the Capital One Cup? Do the sports considered by the Cup restricted to the NCAA championships?
Yeah, I believe so. I will have to check on that and get back to you. What is exciting about the Capital One Cup is that it shines light on sports that doesn't get as much coverage. So it gives some of these smaller sports a platform.
[Later on at the end of the chat]
I'll have someone from Capital One to reach out to you on the eligibility of sports and the ruling on that.
Ruey Yen: So there is an actual Cup? Does it travel around during the year to the various NCAA championships?
There is yes and it is beautiful. I think it is 3 feet tall and you can check it out on CapitalOneCup.com and follow it on Twitter and Facebook.
Ruey Yen: Cool. Now, if you have any one advice for kids or adult playing softball, what would it be?
You know, I think it is to have fun. We're losing so many of our youth, like 80% of the kid, drop out of sports by the time they are 12 which is just absurd. If we can make sure that we are having fun out there on the playing field and then everything else would just fall into place. So it's all about just enjoying it and having fun and be a part of a team sport...there is nothing greater than that. Enjoy, have fun, and compete and be the best you.
Ruey Yen: Great! I guess I'll put you on the spot, who is your pick to win NCAA Championship in Softball this year? [Somehow I think I actually surprised her a bit with this question.]
Oh gosh. I don't know. If I have to pick right now, I'll say Florida? But it's so hard to repeat. I think Oregon will be right there as well. They are firing on all cylinders and can put it all together. I think they have a great shot since they have been so close the past couple of years, led by [ace] Cheridan Hawkins. She also has the USA stage [experience] under her belt as well. She's probably one of the best, if not the best pitcher in the country, I would say right now.
Ruey Yen: Yeah, it should be an exciting month of softball.
Absolutely, we love the month of May, for sure.
Ruey Yen: Well, thank you Jennie for taking the time to talk to me.
Good luck against Michigan. It's going to be a workload but it will be fun to watch and follow.
Thanks to Jennie for answering my questions. Even though she obviously has not got the chance to see Cal play this season, I think there may be some interesting answers in there. Who knows? Should the Bears the Bears find their way out of the Ann Arbor Regional and make a deep run this May, they would surely let the rest of the country know just who they are.