Just hours after one of the greatest careers in Fresno State and Mountain West softball history came to an end, we got an exclusive interview with the reigning 2-time conference Pitcher of the Year, Jill Compton.
The season ended for Compton and her 18th-ranked Fresno State teammates Saturday evening, as the Bulldogs finished one game shy of reaching the NCAA Los Angeles Regional championship game. Over a sterling 4-year career, Compton was the winning pitcher in 88 of Fresno State's 143 victories during that time span. She's the third Mountain West player to win conference Pitcher of the Year honors twice, but the first to ever do it in back-to-back seasons.
She ended her career with the most wins in conference play ever for a Mountain West pitcher, and ranked in the top 5 of numerous categories in Fresno State history. For such a decorated program with a history of wins, that says a lot. Earlier this month, Compton was named Fresno State's Bulldog of the Year, signifying the school's top female student-athlete, regardless of sport.
A 4-time first team All-Mountain West selection and 2-time first team NFCA All-Pacific Region pick, Compton is a big reason Fresno State was able to go 42-5 in conference play the last two seasons. It's the best 2-year record ever for a Mountain West softball team.
As talented as she is on the playing field, those who know her best always say the same thing. She's one of the most humble, hardest-working, and nicest people away from the field too.
Please enjoy our exclusive interview with the reigning 2-time Mountain West Pitcher of the Year ... Fresno State's Jill Compton.
MW Softball Blog: The season, and your college career, literally just ended this weekend. What was it like waking up Sunday morning after Saturday'sseason-ending loss to Cal State Fullerton? Jill Compton: Waking up Sunday morning was definitely very difficult, and a feeling I’ve never felt before. The feeling was perfectly described by my teammate, Hannah Harris, when she texted me Sunday morning and asked how I was feeling. She said she felt “empty” and that’s exactly how I felt. I felt like I was a freshman just yesterday and my college career flew by. It’s weird not knowing what the future holds, and not having another season to look forward to, or something bigger to work toward. Every summer I’ve worked harder to be better than I was the previous year, and this time I don’t get that opportunity. The most challenging thing is knowing that I will never be in a Bulldog uniform again, and won’t be able to play on one of the best fields in the country with girls that have become my best friends.
Your team had an outstanding season this year and set numerous records. Was there one moment this year where you realized, "Hey, we are really a great team!" The moment I knew this team was special would have to be our opening game versus Utah State [where Fresno State rallied from a 10-2 deficit to win]. Up to that point, we were able to fight back and win games even when we were behind, but this game was one of my best memories. Although I gave up 9 runs through 3 innings, and was pulled, Kama [Fresno State freshman pitcher Kamalani Dung] came in and shut them down; it was so fun to watch! She had 13 strikeouts! On the offensive side, our team never gave up and fought hard until we walked off with a win in the ninth. That 12-11 victory would unquestionably be the moment I realized we had a great team.
Did you think any one Mountain West team in particular played the Bulldogs the toughest this season? Or was every series tough?
I thought that every series was tough. From Boise State to San Jose State, every conference opponent played us strong. Throughout the season we had targets on our backs, and we were the team everyone wanted to beat.
You won 88 games a pitcher in your Fresno State career and will rank as one of the all-time greats to wear a Bulldog uniform. What does that mean to you? I don’t see the 88 career wins as an individual accomplishment, but rather a team accomplishment. Certainly it’s an honor to see my name surrounding some of the best Bulldog pitchers, but it takes a team to win, my name is just attached to it.
In all of your wins, your fellow senior Paige Gumz was there at catcher for every single one of them. Describe that pitcher/catcher relationship and her role in your success.
Paige is one of my best friends and just an amazing teammate and person. Over the summers, we would spend a lot of time together working out and getting better for the season coming up. She’s the best catcher that has ever caught me, she pumps me up with one fist pump, and I trusted her with everything.
You were originally recruited by legendary head coach Margie Wright. What sold you on Coach Wright, and what made you choose to be a Bulldog in the first place?
Obviously Coach Wright was someone who did wonders for our sport and fought for many of the things I have received at Fresno State. Coach Wright made me feel at home the moment I stepped on campus, and I instantly knew Fresno would be the right fit. Coach Wright made it possible for me to play at an amazing facility with the most loyal fans there are.
After you signed your National Letter of Intent to attend Fresno State, Coach Wright announced her retirement. Did that cause any anxiety or make you regret your decision in any way?
I was very surprised when Coach Wright announced her retirement, but it didn’t make me want to change my mind to go to school at Fresno State. I was disappointed, because I would have loved to be coached by one of the winningest coaches in college softball, but I don’t regret my decision.
You had a good freshman season, a very good sophomore year, and then just kept getting better throughout your career. How do you explain that? Is it a case of just gaining more experience, or is it something more? I think it’s a little bit of both. As a freshman, I didn’t know what to expect, especially with an entirely new coaching staff and no returners being instructed by Coach Ford to lead the way. Kiley Shae [Aldridge], Hannah [Harris], Taylor [Langdon] and I had to figure it out on our own, but our different strengths helped us as a group. Throughout my career, I learned new things about my game and became more mature as a pitcher. Coach Ford has taught me so much mechanically, and I’ve progressed substantially from year to year because of it. But I think what has helped the most is my dedication toward my mental game. The mental aspect of pitching is something that is very hard to learn and it takes a lot of time to master. I’ve learned so much from our assistant coach, Coach Wynn, and the exercises I did at practice, and the articles I read are all a huge reason I have progressed as well as I did in the circle.
Did your senior season turn out to be like you thought it would?
My senior season wasn’t my best season if you look at my statistics, but I can honestly say that this group of girls was the best team I’ve been on throughout my career. Winning the Mountain West, the 23-game win streak, and beating Tennessee were all memories that made my senior year unforgettable.
You went through a difficult time in March of this year when you were hit by a comebacker in a game against Cal. It caused you to miss some playing time. How severe was that injury and do you think it changed you in any way?
Trying to protect my face, I put my hands in front of my face and the comebacker hit my pitching hand. The pain was through my pinky and knuckle, and the training staff thought it was fractured. The next day I went and got an x-ray and the results showed that it wasn’t fractured, but it sure felt like it was. The doctor told me that I had a deep bone bruise and that I would be able to pitch in a week if I wasn’t in too much pain. I got treatment on it three times a day, and it helped significantly, but I never really felt the same. The pain was partially gone by the time conference play started, but I couldn’t seem to find my groove. I think I created some bad habits pitching not completely healthy, and it was difficult getting that confidence back that I had before I got hit.
Fresno State traditionally plays one of the nation's toughest non-conference schedules. What was your feeling each year when you'd take a look and notice that you were about to play teams like Oklahoma, Washington, Florida, Arizona and others?
Our non-conference schedule is traditionally very strong, and as a freshman it could be somewhat overwhelming, but it’s so much fun. It’s fun to compete with the top teams in the country and show yourselves, fans, and critics what you’re made of. Seeing those teams on our schedule made me excited and gave us an opportunity to put Fresno State on the map. Also, it prepares us for the Mountain West Conference, and this year was a great example of how our strength of schedule was important in our success.
Your team had the best conference record in Mountain West history. How much did you think about the winning streak this year? Honestly, we never spoke about our winning streak, nor thought about it. We only thought about the game we were about to play, and going 1-0 that day.
How disappointed were you when Fresno State was overlooked and not named an
NCAA regional host this season? I was disappointed because we have an amazing facility and I think we deserved it. However, I think it was more disappointing for our fans because we would have hosted a great regional, and the softball community would have loved to see some of the top teams in the country at Margie Wright Diamond.
From a fan's viewpoint, it seems like college softball is becoming more and more about offense every year. From a pitcher's perspective, do you see it that way too? I definitely think it has. The first indicator that really changed the game was the rubber getting moved back to 43 feet. Bat technology is improving every year, teams have the newest bats out there, and fields can be at 190 feet… It’s not very helpful for a rise ball pitcher [laughs].
Did we hear correctly ... you may be returning next season to Fresno State, assisting Coach Ford in some aspect? Yes you did! I have another semester of classes to complete my degree in Accounting, so I’ve decided to help Coach Ford and the rest of the coaching staff; I’m definitely not ready to walk away from Fresno State softball just yet!
Do you have any interest in becoming a coach at the collegiate level? To coach at the collegiate level would definitely interest me. I have so much love for this game, and it would be enjoyable to give back and teach girls that have the same passion.
If you could have a do-over and get one game back to play completely over, which one would it be, if any?
If I had to do a game over, it would have to be the Nevada series my sophomore year. We had to win the series to win the Mountain West and our destiny was in our own hands. If we won the MWC, we would have gotten an automatic bid to postseason, giving us even more experience with what post season felt like. With that said, we may have performed better in the Oregon regional we went to last year and the UCLA regional this year.
What would you say to a 14- or 15-year-old softball player who might be following in your footsteps and thinking about heading to Fresno State in the future? I would say that Fresno State takes care of their athletes on and off the field. We are spoiled with the best coaches, staff, facilities and gear. We’re a Top 25 program because of our committed coaching staff, hard-working athletes, and amazing fan base. Fresno State has excellent professors, and you will get a quality education, and even if you have trouble, we have some great tutors and support staff that will get you the help that you need. But overall, the best feeling is stepping on Margie Wright Diamond and inspiring so many young ones that want to fill your shoes one day.
What are your interests outside softball, and where do you see yourself a decade from now? Outside of softball, I love spending time with my family, and the outdoors. Hiking and yoga are things I’ve really enjoyed when I don’t play softball, but I think a decade from now I will still be around the game in some aspect. Since I’m getting my degree in accounting, I’ve thought about going for my CPA and possibly working for a firm in Northern California, but right now I don’t really know what’s in store. In 10 years, I could be working behind a desk crunching numbers, or being on a field sharing my passion with others.
A funny thing happened recently. Not exactly "ha ha" funny, but more "eye-opening" funny. Reality ultimately set in.
We realized, after 14 enjoyable but exhausting years, it's time to say goodbye to this blog. It's been fulfilling and invigorating at times, but also difficult and time-consuming. Sadly, we realized we'd lost much of the joy that came from blogging about college softball.
Bottom line: It stopped being fun.
That's a hard thing to admit, especially for a blogging team once so dedicated to the sport.
Over the past 14 years, we kept on going, without earning a penny, because we didn't want to let our readers down. And there have been tens of thousands of you. We know, because of the analytics that allow us to see the number of page views, unique viewers (visitors), each user's location, etc.
We're nearing 200,000 page views in just the past year. By most web site standards, those aren't great numbers. We know our limitations, and we realize that number may not mean a lot to a lot of people. But for a college softball blog almost entirely about Fresno State and Mountain West softball? Those are strong numbers, as far as we're concerned. It seems possible, if not likely, that we've had over a million site visits during the course of this blog, which is almost unfathomable. And we appreciate every single one of you who ever bothered to stop by.
If you've been following us for a long time, you may recall we had to turn off commenting a few years ago when numerous people decided to flood the site with mean-spirited, and downright nasty remarks. We sought to keep it a site that's been mostly light, and mostly positive even in a world that seems to be getting nastier and more mean-spirited by the day. Nasty, negative message boards - even ones specifically related to softball - are readily available all over the internet. We never wanted to become that.
In 2005, we began blogging about the Western Athletic Conference, and had what we like to call "a staff of four" working on the site in various aspects. None of us individually had the time, energy, or wealth, to be able to make it a full-time job. But as a collective group effort, it worked well. Trying to keep up with in-game updates, statistical updates, news updates, and all types of information related to numerous teams was challenging, a bit complicated, but worth it.
Over the years, things got more complex as our readers became more engaged. We've been sent scoops, behind-the-scenes information, gossip, and so much more ... on almost a daily basis. So much of what we were given, or privy to, was never posted, for a variety of reasons. We didn't want to become a TMZ-type entity, even when we were sent jaw-dropping scoops or shocking information that probably would've gotten us many more page views.
About a decade ago, we asked our readers if there were any volunteers from other WAC schools (and, eventually, other Mountain West schools) to help with the blog. We wanted fans who could volunteer to provide photos, interesting facts, or news related to their particular school that might be of interest to fans all around the conference.
While in the WAC, we immediately heard from fans at Louisiana Tech and Nevada who wanted to volunteer. And for a good while, it worked great. We had fans from those schools providing photos and details about those programs that were terrific. One particular favorite: being able to see heavy snow on the softball field in Ruston as Louisiana Tech had an early-season game snowed out one year. In the west, we don't typically think of snow in Louisiana!
Our submissions by fans of other teams around the conference slowly fell in number, and we asked why. The reason was always the same: it took too much time coming up with new ideas, new photos, and new information that hadn't been shared before.
We also tried going the interview route.
We wrote to the head softball coaches of each WAC school and asked if they'd like to do a Q&A type interview we could publish on the blog. Every coach, except for two, responded with a firm, "Yes!" What a pleasant surprise that was. So we spent hours trying to come up with the best questions we could, and tried to make them as specific to each coach and each program as possible. After each Q&A was completed, we published the interviews with the coaches and they were overwhelming hits! It was as though no one had ever thought to print interviews with college softball coaches before.
Our page views soared, and a few schools linked the interviews on their official athletic department web sites to our blog. Quite honestly, it helped everyone. It gave us some instant credibility, and also helped give the universities' softball programs and coaches some free publicity at a time when there was virtually nothing about WAC or Mountain West softball available online. (Still to this day, there isn't much.) One of our favorite responses from a coach in that interview process was then-Boise State head coach Erin Thorpe's admission that yes, she'd actually think it would be cool for the Broncos to play on a blue softball field like the school's famed football team.
Once Fresno State and its fellow WAC members moved on to the Mountain West, we decided to move the blog too. First and foremost, we were fans of the Bulldogs and legendary head coach Margie Wright. That's a fact we made public very often, and it was no secret. It would be like Hawaii fans running a Big West Volleyball Blog, or Colorado State fans running a Mountain West Volleyball Blog, or Boise State fans running a Mountain West Football Blog. It's common sense: your best programs are going to have the most informed, most dedicated fans. You won't find people invested in blogging for more than a decade in a sport where their favorite school seldom wins.
Due to work and life changes, we eventually were down to three people working on the blog and our Twitter account. One of our original bloggers lost interest in Fresno State softball completely, and apparently she wasn't alone. When we started in 2005, the Bulldogs led the nation in per-game average attendance. The decline in attendance has been very noticeable for those who've followed the program over the past 20 years. After averaging 2,557 fans per game in 1997, this year's team is averaging 1,051 per game heading into its final home weekend. While crowds are still good by MWC standards, it's a nearly 59 percent drop in per-game average attendance from the Bulldogs' glory days.
What a continuing struggle it has been trying to handle in-game updates of midweek and weekend games on Twitter, along with daily stats updates and informational updates, while trying to fit in every other aspect of our lives too. All this while we noticed the official Mountain West accounts seemed to be spending less and less time promoting the sport of softball. Sigh.
But we persisted.
One particular moment stands out from our early Twitter days during the Erica Beach coaching tenure at New Mexico. While the Lobos were playing non-conference games in a tournament in Southern California, a few games UNM was playing did not have any live stats or online video available. But we were live tweeting in-game updates for the Lobos, thanks to our connection to Bulldog fans. We had a blog team member (who happened to be there because Fresno State was in the same tournament) texting us in-game updates of New Mexico's game so we could tweet them out. We were happy to provide those updates for Lobos fans, who would've had no other way to follow live updates for their team that particular weekend. We'll never forget the official UNM Twitter account asking us how we were able to get those updates. Yes, they acknowledged us, and were thankful and appreciative.
And that's been our mission for the past 14 years. We wanted to get the word out to the public about Fresno State and Mountain West softball, and make sure people understood what a quality softball conference this is. Every chance we got, we sought to sing the praises of a league that doesn't get much national attention, but one that has become one of the better softball conferences in the nation and includes a former NCAA softball champion.
But that didn't mean we were going to be blind to pitfalls that took place, or deny sharing bad news. When Fresno State this season was run-ruled seven times - the most in a single-season in school history - we were blasted for mentioning it. But it was something important to mention. In a program with as much tradition as the Bulldog softball program, it's important to be honest with fans. Because those kinds of stats are never going to be mentioned by the school itself.
We've received a ton of compliments and well wishes over the years, and are forever grateful to those of you who sent kind words or helped and assisted us in any way. We know there are so many people who appreciated all the hard work and many long hours that went into creating this for you.
And we'd even like to thank those of you who took the time to send or post angry, purposely hurtful, nasty messages or tweets. It kept us on our toes, and displayed to us the type of negativity that we've never wanted to be associated with.
We've been told to stop mentioning when players commit errors or have prolonged slumps at the plate. We've been told we need to "be true fans," and never question coaching moves. However, part of being a fan is telling the truth. Part of being a fan is not turning a blind eye to problems within a team, a coaching staff, a program, a conference, or even an entity like the NCAA.
Blogging, by its very nature, is opinion-oriented. Box scores can easily be found on every school's web site if fans prefer to just see scores and not know what really happened during a game.
If what readers want is a 100 percent positive game story of a team that is always perfect and never stumbles, they shouldn't be reading a blog dedicated to sports. Softball and baseball are sports built on failure. Where getting a hit one-third of the time is considered great. Where errors are part of the game. Where batting averages rise and fall. Where even elite pitchers and hitters have bad streaks, and bad days.
We're proud that we've kept true to our mission all along: Be truthful. When things are going well for particular teams, say it and say it loudly. When things aren't going well, we also had an obligation to say that too.
We'd like to thank everyone who did support us over the past 14 years. To those who communicated with us privately and shared important information (and yes, even gossip), we are forever indebted to you for the support and friendship. To everyone who retweeted, clicked on, liked, read, shared, laughed about, or enjoyed what we created, we say a huge thank you.
We're going to leave up the single most visited post in our blog's history ... our 2016 interview with former Fresno State pitcher Jill Compton, the 2-time Mountain West Pitcher of the Year. And even though we're not supposed to have favorite players (or at least it's not usually cool to say so), Jill is definitely one of our favorites. And not just because she's a great player, but because she's a great person.
In the end, when everyone's blogging career or athletic career is over and done with, isn't it better to be remembered as a nice person anyway? We sure think so.
Two of our favorite stories of 2018 in Mountain West softball had little to do with game results anyway. We greatly admired first-year New Mexico head coach Paula Congleton increasing the strength of the Lobos' non-conference schedule when the easier route would've been trying to pad the slate with cupcakes during a rebuilding season. But our greatest story of the year: Colorado State and the Rams team standing up for itself and pointing out inequality. Some things are bigger than softball. And one of those things is fairness and equality, and the 2018 Rams will be remembered for taking a stand and making a difference.
So, for now, we're saying goodbye. May your favorite team - no matter which team that may be - succeed and reach new heights in the years to come.