Cat Osterman verbalized what many former and current Texas softball athletes were probably thinking Wednesday.
“It’s going to be different to see somebody else walk out as the head coach at Texas next year or even in the fall,” Osterman said. “To see the end of an era, that’s a huge deal.”
And then, the tears started flowing.
Osterman, a Longhorn so famous she’s earned first-name recognition status, heard the news that longtime coach Connie Clark was leaving the program and was stunned. Cat and Connie are forever tied together in UT history, much like Vince and Mack or KD and Rick.
With Osterman on the mound, the Longhorns went 203-44 from 2002-03 and 2005-06. Along the way, the Horns won three Big 12 titles. In 2004, Osterman threw her signature fastball for Team USA in the Summer Olympics. Remember, this was also happening during Texas’ heyday, a golden era for Longhorns sports that the current group of athletes know little about anymore.
“Coach Clark means so much to a lot of us,” said Osterman, now 35. “She built that program from the ground up. … Sorry, I’ve been crying. I’ve been crying off and on. … You just hate to have to see the end, but there’s always an end for somebody.
“For me personally, she means so much,” Osterman continued. “She gave me an opportunity as a bratty 18-year-old to take the ball and run with it. … Sorry, I’m trying not to cry so you can understand all this. … But you know, she gave me an opportunity that as I get older, I’ve always reflected back on the fact that if I had gone to school anywhere else, I’m not thrown into the fire as a freshman like I was. I’m not given the ball as many times as a young age as I was.
“I think any other place I decided to go, I would have been a No. 2 or a No. 3 and not the pitcher. Whether that was really in her plans or not when I got here — Natalie King was here, so I don’t know. But it worked out to where she had me and Amy Bradford and that was pretty much it. So she prepared me for later on. She trusted in me as a young freshman.”
Clark, who was an assistant at Florida State when she was hired in April 1995 to start the UT program as a club team, compiled an 873-401-3 record over the last 22 years. But the last Big 12 title came in 2010. Maybe it was time for a change. It dind’t help that UT’s biggest rival, Oklahoma, is now the standard bearer for NCAA softball.
Still, Osterman thinks about the opportunity that Clark provided her and is grateful. Probably so are others, like Christa Williams, Nikki Cockrell, Jodi Reeves, Lindsay Gardner or Blaire Luna — some of the brightest softball stars to ever wear burnt orange at Red McCombs Field.
“For me, I think a lot of doors opened at a really young age because I chose to come here and go to Texas, and a really big part of going to Texas was because of coach Clark,” Osterman said. “I had a good relationship with her from the beginning, and I still do to this day. That’s not something every college athlete can say about the coach they get to play for. I owe her a lot.”
Just how big was Clark’s influence on the hard-throwing lefty from Houston?
“I really honestly don’t know if I’m prepared for the 2004 Olympics at all, or maybe I don’t even try out, if I hadn’t come to Texas and played for her,” Osterman said.
Osterman is now an associate head coach at Texas State. Yes, she’s aware that some are hoping she is named as Clark’s replacement.
Asked specifically about that possibility, Osterman declined to comment.
“I think the Texas program, it’s still very competitive,” she said. “Obviously, I know fans and the like want to see everybody in the (Women’s College) World Series every single year. I think when you’re on the other side, as an athlete you realize how hard that is. But as a coach you realize how hard that is sometimes, too. They’re a competitive program, and it’s been sad to see the Big 12 in general not be as competitive as the Pac-12 and the SEC.”
More than anything, Osterman knew that Clark was a player’s coach. She gave Osterman the latitude to call her own game on the mound. The players were in control.
The best coaches always give their best players latitude to make things happen.
In Cat’s mind, playing for Connie might be the best thing that’s ever happened to her athletically.
“I think coach Clark always cared about us and the program,” Osterman said. “I know for a fact she has never been about herself or how many wins she gets or anything like that. She’s a very selfless coach. In my perspective, she’s a player’s coach and I’ve forever been indebted and enjoyed my relationship with her.”
Contact Brian Davis at 512-445-3957. Email email@example.com.