Dec. 15, 2008
NORTHRIDGE, Calif. -
Former Cal State Northridge softball coach Gary Torgeson was enshrined in the NFCA Hall of Fame this past weekend in Marco Islands, Fla. In his 13 seasons at the helm of the Matadors, Torgeson guided the program to four NCAA Division II titles and national runners-up at the 1994 NCAA Division I Women's College World Series.
"It was an outstanding event and a tremendous honor," said Torgeson. "This award is about more than just me, it's about a lot of different people who contributed to Northridge softball over the years. To me, it was all about Northridge."
One of Torgeson's former players and current Northridge softball head coach, Barbara Jordan, gave the induction speech for her former skipper.
"It was truly an honor to induct Coach Torgeson in the Hall of Fame," said Jordan. "To be chosen among all the great people who worked with Coach Torgeson for this ceremony was a humbling experience."
Joining Torgeson as part of the 2008 NFCA Hall of Fame Class were Mississippi State head coach Jay Miller, DePaul Head Coach Eugene Lenti, Muskingum College Head Coach Donna Newberry, Wayne State (Mich.) Head Coach Gary Bryce and former Oklahoma State Head Coach Sandy Fischer.
Below is a feature story written about Torgeson's tenure at Northridge by CSUN assistant media relations director Geoff Herberg for the NFCA Hall of Fame Festivities.
The saying goes that a person who started and built an athletics program into a perennial power is to say they did so "with their bare hands." For Gary Torgeson, the 13-year head coach of the Cal State Northridge softball team and 2008 NFCA Hall of Fame Inductee, it is the actual truth.
Having dug, lined and manicured Matador Diamond through hard work, sweat and just a little beer, Torgeson not only built a program that produced four NCAA Division II titles in a six year span and a .676 career winning percentage, he did so with an earnest appreciation to level the playing field for women's athletics.
One of Cal State Northridge's first football players and its third head coach, Torgeson learned of the inequalities existing in intercollegiate athletics first hand.
"The truth was the girls were not getting what the guys were and that frustrated me," Torgeson said. "I went to my administration and told them I wanted to do something about it. These girls could do just as well as the guys, but they weren't getting their fare share."
Except the truth was there was no field. So Torgeson and a hardy crew of Northridge staff took it upon themselves to build the stadium. Literally.
"We managed to get some funds, though not much, to get a permanent field built," Torgeson added. "The Northridge staff was phenomenal in getting the field ready, from removing all the gopher holes to raising the fence."
No longer needing the duties of his tractor, Torgeson then moved onto instilling a doctrine for his softball team that promoted dedication, determination and perseverance.
The hard work paid off. In Torgeson's first season, the Matadors finished 34-17-1 and finished as national runners-up. The next year, the Matadors grabbed their first of three straight and four in five years. To this day, Torgeson rattles off the names of his players as if their dynamic performances just happened.
"Like baseball, softball requires great pitching and we had that," Torgeson stated. "I always felt that once we got to the World Series, everyone had a chance. It was amazing not only to watch players excel in order to have that opportunity, but to also to witness their skill and athleticism in winning it all."
In all, Torgeson finished his stint with a 636-216-8 record, an astounding .744 winning percentage in which he never lost a regular season conference title. His players earned 24 All-American honors and numerous region and conference honors. All with Torgeson standing right behind them, leading them in the fight on the diamond and in the fight in as female student-athletes.
"When I think of Coach Torgeson, I think of three things: strength, commitment and determination," Barbara Jordan said, a three-time All-American from 1984-1987. "He would always talk to us at the end of practice, pacing in the dugout. It was inspiring. He was the biggest warrior of us all and there was no way we ever wanted to let him down."
And oh how success came. In 1985, the Matadors successfully defended their first national championship, doing so in front of the home crowd at Northridge
"I think that was the most nervous I saw him," Jordan added.
By 1990, Torgeson had amassed a record of 406-119 and four national championships at the Division II level. Players like Kathy Slaten, Lisa Ericson, Debbie Dickman and Michelle McAnany had etched their names into the records books with marks that still stand to this day.
A great note that speaks to Torgeson's Matadors is that they never finished worse than a tie for first in their respective conference standings during his entire 13-year tenure.
When 1991 rolled around, Torgeson had a new challenge to undertake: moving up to Division I. With the promotion came consistent competition against the top programs in the country. Except for one thing, nobody told Torgeson or the Matadors that it wasn't supposed to be so seamless.
"I think that is his greatest achievement, the way he and that team made the move to Division I," Jordan said. "People work their whole careers to get to the World Series and here he was taking them to the big dance in their third year of eligibility."
New names emerged for Torgeson in 1993, his first season at the College World Series and a 48-9-1 record. Kathy Blake, Vicky Rios, Beth Calcante and Tamara Ivie were among the new Matadors to hoist the mantle, taking the team to its first of three consecutive Western Athletic Conference championships and a fifth place finish in Oklahoma City.
Then, in 1994, the earthquake hit. On the first day of double-days.
With the campus and community sorting through the rubble of the devastating earthquake, Torgeson knew that the best way to rally his team was to get them back on the field.
"I remember hearing that two of my girls had to jump out of a building that was collapsing," Torgeson said. "They didn't want us to practice because the field was a mess, but I wouldn't of hear it. We were not going to let anything get in our way that year."
No doubt still pacing along the dugout after every practice with his trademark pencil in is ear, Torgeson watched CSUN finish 52-10 overall and clinch the WAC with a 21-3 mark. At the World Series, the Matadors rallied to defeat Oklahoma State in the semifinals to set-up a meeting with Arizona for the national championship.
Janet Pinneau, now an associate athletics director at Cal State Northridge, was one of Torgeson's assistant coaches during the team's transition to Division I and took over the program following Torgeson's retirement. She recalls never feeling any tentativeness during the season despite all the distractions, a belief she largely credits to Torgeson.
"Nothing phased us during that time and we had riots, earthquakes, floods and fires happening all around us and that was due to Coach Torgeson," Pinneau said. "We practiced for every situation that could arise in a game and that helped us stay focused and determined. Coach Torgeson always preached flexibility and during those times, we did what we had to do get through."
Although the end result was a 3-1 Arizona victory, Torgeson secured a place in history with the Matadors, especially as the game was the first women's softball national championship game to be televised on ESPN2.
He retired following the 1994 season and was immediately elected to the school's athletic Hall of Fame. To this day, he can still rattle off the names and plays that defined his extended stretch of success, and does so with a piercing clarity that makes you think he could still be patrolling the third base box with a pencil in his ear.
Still, when he looks back, when he collectively recalls all the championships and all the players and all the memories, it's the knowledge that he had an impact on the beginning of women's intercollegiate athletics.
"I am proud to have been a part of the beginning and enactment of Title IX," Torgeson added. "For all the success we had through all the years, having the opportunity to be part of history and work with a group of outstanding, big-hearted individuals was the best part."