One Thousand wins.
One. Thousand. Wins. In program history.
This past Saturday afternoon, all 22 of us were a part of something special, of something bigger than ourselves. With a 6-3 win over Loyola (Chicago) in the second game of a doubleheader, Northwestern softball amassed the 1,000th win in the history of the program since it began in 1976 under head coach Mary Conway.
I don't think any of us were thinking about the implications of that win in the last few minutes of the 7th inning. I'm not even sure half of us realized the significance of that moment. But we've certainly been thinking about it ever since.
To reach 1,000 wins is a milestone in the world of college softball, a distinguished asterisk in the NCAA history books. But what does an achievement like this truly mean for a program?
For legendary Northwestern softball head coach Sharon J. Drysdale, the answer lies in simple math.
"Even if you had 40 wins a year for 10 years, that would [only] be 400 wins. Twenty years would be 800. It would take over 20 years to get a 1,000 wins, and we didn't play a lot of games back [when I first started coaching]," said Drysdale, who began a 23-year tenure as head coach at Northwestern with a 16-game schedule in 1979.
"When you think about it like that," said Drysdale, "A thousand takes a long time."
Time. It seems to be the key to Drysdale's mathematical formula; the unseen piece that ties win number one and win number 1,000 for Northwestern softball together. Because it's taken those great seasons and those not-so-great seasons, the Big Ten Championships and the Women's College World Series appearances. It's taken those 171 women from 1976 to 2011 that put on the purple jersey to reach 1,000.
"I'm proud to even be a part of such an important milestone for the program," said Garland Cooper via email -- a 3-time All-American and 3-time Big Ten Player of the Year who led Northwestern to back-to-back Women's College World Series appearances in 2006 and 2007. "To me, it means that the hard work of all the people that came before me, I played beside and that play now has paid off."
Along the way to 1,000 wins, Northwestern has earned seven Big Ten titles (including the school's first for a women's program in 1982), made five Women's College World Series appearances, and produced nine All-Americans. At a university where Drysdale says "the sacrifices and challenges are greater" to excel as both a student and an athlete, Northwestern softball has continually proven that excellence will be achieved, no matter what obstacles lie in the way.
"I think the milestone of 1,000 wins represents the great support of our university and the amazing work that has gone into our program by the student athletes that have participated, the coaches and all of our stakeholders," said current head coach Kate Drohan. "I was just excited that we got to be on the field for that milestone. We were lucky to be the ones in uniform because [1,000 wins] is symbolic of the investment that hundreds of people have put into our program."
To measure the significance of 1,000 wins is to peel back the layers and generations of Northwestern softball. One thousand wins is 35 years of female student-athletes excelling both on and off the softball field. It's 12,775 days filled with tailgates, Halloween costumes and road trips to Penn State. It's 306,600 hours spent largely in the weight room or on the stadium stairs.
One thousand wins is 18,396,000 minutes of drop steps, ground balls and swings off the tee. It's 1,103,760,000 seconds; only a few of which are needed to steal a base, throw that strikeout pitch or hit a ball over the fence.
As I sit here today and read over the master list of Northwestern softball players and coaches in the record book, I have a better understanding of Drysdale's equation. Although the list starts and ends with two current players -- sophomore Lauren Ackerman and junior Olivia Zolke -- there have been an incredible number of contributions made over the years by the dozens of names in between. Finding my teammates' names next to former players such as Eileen Canney or Lisa Ishikawa instantly puts 1,000 in perspective.
One thousand wins is not just a number. It's not just a 6-3 win over Loyola on April 2.
One thousand wins is every woman who's ever worn purple, every team that's scratched and clawed their way to a W. It's a telling symbol of Northwestern softball's past, present and future.
"When you get to be my age, you look back and you think, "That was a good ride," said Drysdale. "I'm glad I jumped on and held on."