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Berkeleyan

You can't win 'em all, but softball Bears come close
Under the leadership of Coach Diane Ninemire, Cal has become a perennial powerhouse in intercollegiate softball

| 12 April 2005

For news updates on Cal softball and schedules for 2005, see calbears.com and select “Women’s teams” from the menu bar at the top.
"Home game" has a unique meaning for Berkeley native Emily Friedman, a lifelong softball fan who grew up in the Panoramic Hill neighborhood. Memorial Stadium was virtually in her backyard back then, and so was Levine-Fricke Field, home of the California softball team.

"Growing up in a college town, you're a fan of the school and the teams," says Friedman. The Golden Bears softball squad "was my team, since I was 8 or 10 years old. I'd walk down Panoramic and watch the games and the practices."


The Cal softball squad has played in the Women's College World Series for six consecutive years, taking the title in 2002. For the six current team members who were freshmen players that year, the dream of winning a second title this June, on the heels of accepting their diplomas, is sweet indeed. (Peg Skorpinski photo)
Friedman played varsity softball at Berkeley High and spent several summers in her teens on the highly competitive travel ball circuit (with the San Jose Strikkers and the Stockton Runnin' Rebels), then won a scholarship to the University of Wisconsin.

Last fall, after two years as one of the Badgers' top players, Friedman transferred to Cal and returned to Levine-Fricke Field - this time covering second base for the team she once peered at through the fence, cheered from the stands, and even served, on occasion, as bat girl. To add to the irony and excitement of it all, she's back under the guidance of Diane Ninemire - the Cal coach who taught her the game, from the ground up, in softball summer camps.

"She definitely pushes us hard," she says of Ninemire. "She cares about us as a team, and as individuals, a lot. Even at practices, she expects us to be the best."


Coach Ninemire is in her 18th season as head coach of the Bears. (Peg Skorpinski photo)
Ninemire's high standards have paid off. In her 23 years with the Cal softball program - 18 of them as head coach - she has elevated the program to the highest level and become the "winningest" coach, male or female, in the history of Cal athletics (790 wins, 374 losses as of April 10; see "All-time winningest Cal coaches"). In the process, Ninemire has gained recognition as one of the top softball coaches in the world; last year, she served as assistant coach to the 2004 Greek Olympic softball team.

Now regarded as one of the perennial powerhouse teams, the Bears have made it to the Women's College World Series for the last six years - coming in second in 2003 and 2004 and taking the NCAA title in 2002. Six of Cal's current seniors were freshmen on that WCWS title team. This spring, on the verge of graduation, they're hungry for another trophy. So are the newer players.

"We have a whole infield full of seniors," says Friedman. "We have every single element of the game necessary to win: defense, pitching, offense, and speed."

So far, the season has brought a series of rainouts for No. 3 California, which enjoys a 35-5 record as of April 10. Ninemire, of course, is gunning for a second national title, though she's philosophical about taking it "one game at a time."

However the season pans out, she takes great pride in the fact that Cal can offer players like Friedman the "best of both worlds" - a great education and a great softball program. "Life doesn't get much better than that," she says.


Tickets to Cal softball home games at Levine-Fricke Field (east of Memorial Stadium, off Stadium Rimway Road) are sold at the gate, starting one hour prior to the opening pitch. Admission for regular-season weekend games is $8 for adults, free for seniors and youth 17 and under.