Dec. 15, 2010
By Anna Oleson-Wheeler
Originally published in the Nov. 27 edition of the California football gameday program.
Last season, Diane Ninemire reached a pinnacle that few coaches have achieved. On April 7, 2010, California's softball head coach Ninemire won her 1,000th career game, with every victory being for the benefit of the Blue and Gold.
Ninemire is the ninth coach in the history of Division I softball to notch 1,000 wins. Already the winningest coach - male or female - in all of Cal history for any sport, Ninemire now has a career record of 1,014-498 and is set for her 24th year as the Bears' head coach.
An assistant coach for the Golden Bears for five years before taking over the helm, she won her first game as a head coach on Feb. 15, 1988, with a 2-0 decision over Pacific in only her second game as the team's leader. All of her head coaching experience has been at Cal, where she has registered 23 winning seasons and 23 consecutive trips to the postseason. Ninemire also led Cal to a Women's College World Series title in 2002, which was the first NCAA championship for any women's team in Cal history.
With all of her accolades and the remarkable manner in which she has single-handedly brought the Cal program to national prominence and supremacy, Ninemire remains ever humble.
"It's not really about me - it's about the Cal softball program," Ninemire noted of her 1,000th win. "A program that has won 1,000 games under me and more than that overall - that says something about our tradition and the pride that we take on the field here at Cal. For me, it's more about the success of the program, but I am thrilled and honored to have a day like today."
When asked if she is looking for 1,000 more wins, Ninemire quickly dismisses that idea. A little known fact about the softball legend accurately reflects her one game at a time mentality. After each game, she cleans off her shoes so that she does not bring dirt from one field onto another. For her, it is the joy of the sport, her prodigies and coaching that keep her coming back for more.
"I'm still very excited for coaching, and I love what I do," Ninemire said. "I don't look behind me or in front of me in terms of wins and losses. I try and put my best attitude and best foot forward every day. I love working hard to help my student-athletes become the best players on and off the field."
The tenured coach has overseen countless players, including 26 All-America selections, 156 All-Pac-10 players, 44 academic All-Americans and 90 All-Region choices.
Last year, Cal qualified for the postseason for the 25th consecutive season, the second-longest streak in the nation and the longest in the Pac-10. The Bears won their NCAA Regional at Ohio State by sweeping the competition before falling at No. 6-seeded Georgia in the Super Regionals.
Cal appears set to a return to the NCAA Tournament with 11 returning letterwinners, including star pitchers Jolene Henderson and Valerie Arioto. Coming back for her junior season is Jamia Reid, who bested her own steals record last year with 48 and landed on the All-Pacific First Team. Also returning to the field are six of Cal's 10 All-Pac-10 teamers, including junior outfielder Frani Echavarria, junior utility Jace Williams and sophomore catcher Lindsey Ziegenhirt. A talented crop of eight freshman will join the returners.
"I think this is going to be a very balanced team this year," Ninemire said. "We have a lot of experience with a great combination of speed and power. We'll still be able to run the bases like we did last year, hopefully a little bit better. We have powerful hitters and lefties, so I think we'll be able to improve our base running and RBI production this year in addition to an improved ERA with our pitching staff with a little bit more experience in the circle."
In addition to those goals, Ninemire hopes that the Bears will earn a No. 1 seed for the NCAA Tournament and return to the Women's College World Series. Last year, Cal finished the season at No. 12 and No. 13 in the two polls, and Ninemire would like the Bears to best that with a top-10 finish.
The road to success will not be easy by any means. The 2011 campaign features 15 teams that advanced to the NCAA Tournament, seven of them advanced to Super Regionals and five of them moved onto the Women's College World Series. For Ninemire, the competition her team faces is just another one of the draws of coaching.
"With our schedule and in the Pac-10, you face a powerhouse every day," Ninemire said. "We're constantly working hard to put the right pieces together to compete with the best in country. It is an exciting time at Cal with all our new things. We look forward to getting stronger each and every year."
Cal kicks off its season on Feb. 11 at a tournament in Tempe, Ariz.