Sydney Sherrill saw her teammates’ fight. There were struggles, certainly more wins than losses, but the Florida State softball team was seeking to find an identity.
The Seminoles were playing good softball. Pitching depth and defense were cornerstones that coach Lonni Alameda and players knew they could count on. There was speed. But home runs and hitting for average often weren’t a dependable part of the team.
“Just questioning everything, ‘What are we doing wrong?’ And I think really the key was we just kept pushing through it,” Sherrill said. “We were getting the wins we needed to be ranked where we were ranked. We did a lot of team meetings and scouting and figuring out what got us here and how did we win these certain games. Small ball, situational hitting, moving runners over, getting them in. Things like that was what was doing it for us. And obviously our pitching and defense holding the other team. So we just tried to embrace that.”
The Seminoles embraced it, all the way to the Women’s CWS title game. FSU won 49 games and was just a few outs away from a second national title. The run captured the attention of FSU fans who have grown to embrace the players and a sport that is surging in popularity.
Sherrill has been a big part of FSU’s program, a freshman on the 2018 title team and a veteran third baseman in 2021. The ACC defensive player of the year, as well as the team’s leader in batting average (.304) and doubles (15), Sherrill also told the Osceola she’s not done at FSU.
She graduated with a bachelor’s degree this spring in Humanities along with an emphasis in Communications and Spanish. Sherrill also has planned for more than a year to return to FSU for the 2022 season to pursue a master’s degree and play softball.
“I want to keep growing this sport,” Sherrill said. “But I also want to play softball so I’m going to definitely finish out my fifth year here and try to make it back to Oklahoma City again. I know we can do it. After making it back this year I definitely want to get back and just keep helping grow this program. I put a lot into it. I definitely would hate to cut it short early. I think I would definitely regret it.
“I am coming back and then after that I definitely want to pursue coaching and keep growing the sport. I’m going to look at being a grad assistant or volunteer assistant somewhere, and see how that goes. That’s the plan for now. I’m getting my master’s certificate in athletic coaching. So that’ll hopefully set me up for a coaching job somewhere.”
Listening to Sherrill, she speaks and leads like a veteran. And there are hints of a coach being shaped by her experiences on the field. While the team was struggling at times in 2021, the players learned to accept the style of softball they played and put aside the shortcomings.
Sherrill said part of the issues traced to the fall of 2020, not being able to hang out in groups as easily because of COVID and having different weightlifting schedules. Players and coaches had to be cautious but team-building was critical as FSU’s veterans — including the super seniors and a redshirt junior like Sherrill — couldn’t get to know the freshmen as well.
Alameda likes to identify each team with a numeral — and in 2021, that was Team 38 — a way of distinguishing each squad from a prior year’s team or, yes, the 2018 national title. The 2021 team wasn’t a great hitting team but the Seminoles instead learned to accentuate the many positives and not get too caught up in what they weren’t.
“I think that adversity that we went through in the fall, the adversity of not being the greatest hitting team throughout the season, it really helped us as we got to postseason,” Sherrill said. “We had to just scratch runs across the board. No matter how we did it, we had to do it. Base running, bunting, a home run here and there. I think it all just worked.”
It all worked in a run that was captivating for fans. With 25 percent capacity at JoAnne Graf Field, the atmosphere for home games was not nearly the same. And the situation varied on the road, too. But FSU returned home for a regional and enjoyed a full house as the NCAA expanded attendance capacity. The fans came back and it seemed to energize players.
“We have the best fans in the world,” Sherrill said. “I know we had so many alumni come to the College World Series. I think we have something special at FSU with our fans and how Coach A has really bought into just it being a program as a whole with fans included and having great connections.”
FSU began to build steam, winning the Tallahassee Regional and sweeping LSU in Baton Rouge in the Super Regional. The Seminoles got to Oklahoma City for the Women’s College World Series and even a game 1 loss didn’t seem to bother them.
“We lost the first game and I told a couple people this,” Sherrill said. “It’s kind of hard to explain but it was almost like after we had lost, the pressure was gone, which usually it would be the opposite. After you lose one game the pressure is on because if you lose another you’re done. But for us it was the complete opposite. We had lost and it is what it is. And we’re gonna just go out and play now and we had so much fun every game after we lost.
“It’s just the weirdest thing and it was so similar to 2018 when we did lose the first game and then we ended up taking it all. We didn’t really play with anything to lose even though we did have things to lose. But we didn’t play like it. It really showed and it got us to where we were playing for the national championship, which it was just awesome. This year was just the craziest year to get to that point. It was just so amazing as a team and as a program and setting us up for teams to come for Florida State, it was so cool.”
And when Sherrill mentions future teams, she’s also along for the ride. An Oklahoma native, Sherrill grew up in Moore, Okla., just minutes away from the USA Softball Hall of Fame Stadium in OKC. Sherrill wants to be part of another run to the elite eight of college softball, and she hopes the format includes more rest days in the future.
“If you lose that first game, and you end up having to play four (games) to get back in the national championship, physically and mentally it is the most draining two days of your life because you just played a 60-game season and you get to the biggest stage and the biggest moment and you want to win,” Sherrill said. “And you had to play four games in two days against the best teams in the country to make it back. Obviously, it’s doable. But it’s just hard on our bodies and then obviously the resources at the Women’s College World Series comparative to the resources that the men’s College World Series are just so different.
“The more you put into softball, the more you’re going to get out of it and I think that people are starting to realize that. People just need to keep watching and keep supporting and I think what we’re doing is good.”