By Lee Davis
Over The Mountain softball fans probably felt a little like deja vu while watching Auburn University’s impressive finish in the College Softball World Series in
Oklahoma City last week.
Four former area stars – Hoover’s Madison Dickey and Marcy Harper, Spain Park’s Madi Gipson and Mountain Brook’s Courtney Shea — were all part of a Tiger team that won the Southeastern Conference and went to finish runner-up behind eventual champion Oklahoma in the CSWS. Shea was a former All Over The Mountain choice for the Spartans while Dickey and Harper earned Girl Over The Mountain Athlete of the Year honors during their tenure with the Lady Bucs.
The good news for Auburn fans is that Shea and Gipson will return for her junior season. Dickey and Harper’s college careers ended when the final out was made against the Sooners.
All four had interesting paths that lead them to Auburn. Shea is the daughter of Richard Shea, who starred at Mountain Brook and Auburn in football. Gipson was also a volleyball star at Spain Park. Dickey transferred to Auburn after playing two years at Samford University. Harper is a life-long Tiger fan who dreamed of playing softball on the Plains as a child.
Each saw their dreams come true in 2016, as being part of a CSWS team.
The success of all three is a good barometer of where softball in our area is on the pecking order of girls sports. For years, girls soccer and track have dominated the spring calendar, with softball making a somewhat smaller ripple. But Hoover’s long record of success, along with the comparatively recent rises of Spain Park, Oak Mountain and Vestavia Hills has brought the sport to near parity with the others. And the showcase of three local girls playing on a national championship-runner up team can only increase the sport’s profile.
In the meantime, Auburn’s over the mountain alumni should take a moment to savor the memory.
“It still doesn’t seem real,” said Dickey, when contacted last week. “Of course we were disappointed to lose, but that doesn’t take away from what we accomplished as a team this year. This was an amazing way to end my college career.”
Dickey said Auburn’s almost-successful national championship bid should inspire future Tiger teams. “I hope the teams that follow us will build on the tradition that we started. There’s a bright future for Auburn softball.”
Shea, whose hard ground ball in the final inning nearly kept Auburn’s hopes alive in the third and deciding game, said the loss would make the program stronger in the future. “Losing in the finals will only guarantee the players that are returning are hungry for a championship next year,” she said. “We’re going to be better than ever.”
Thanks to ESPN’s cameras, much of the sports world saw Shea’s emotional reaction
to the defeat, but her plans for the summer may shield her from any loss of privacy her moment in the spotlight might have brought. She is traveling to Spain as part of the Auburn Abroad academic program. “It’s a great way to knock out some credits,” Shea said, laughing. “But I don’t think softball is too big over there.”
Maybe not, but Dickey, Harper and Shea helped make Auburn a big deal in the USA.
The end of the month will be a critical time for two local swimmers, who will be competing in the Olympic Trials on June 24. Rachel Cunningham of Spain Park is competing in the Women’s 200 Meter Breaststroke. Sam Steele, a homeschooler who swims
with the Hoover Blue Thunder Club Team will compete in the Men’s 400 meter free style.
Latest in the Tradition…
Dickey and Harper are just two former Over The Mountain Athletes of the Year that have gone on to success in college. Original selections in 2005 were Hoover quarterback Jarod Bryant and Vestavia Hills track and field star Laurel Pritchard. Bryant went on to play at the United States Naval Academy and Pritchard had a strong track career at Auburn University. Others have also gone on to fame and glory at the next level.
This year’s choices are Homewood basketball star Luke Toulitatos, who will return for his senior year and Mountain Brook distance runner Francis Patrick, who is bound for TCU. Who knows what future rewards await them.