Holy Cross Goes from Underdog to Top Dog

Photo courtesy of Holy Cross softball

Photo courtesy of Holy Cross softball

However you say it – underdog, longshot, dark horse – the definition remains the same: a competitor who has little chance of winning and constantly faces an uphill battle. But throughout history, there have been notable underdogs who have left skeptics astounded.

If you placed a $2 bet on the biggest longshot in Derby history, Donerail, you cashed in $184.90 on the horse who won the 1913 Kentucky Derby at 91-1 odds.

In 1985, the eighth-seeded Villanova Wildcats, who never cracked the Top 20 in rankings and lost to Georgetown twice during the regular season, beat the defending national champion Hoyas in the ’85 championship game on April Fools’ – not hard to figure out who the prank was on that year.

Another victor was entered into the Underdog Hall of Fame, so to speak, this season by the Holy Cross softball team in Louisville. After a third consecutive 28-plus win season, the Cougars captured their first regional championship in school history.

“It means a lot to the program,” says Head Coach Anthony Young. “It shows young kids in the area that Holy Cross – who had never competed on that level – that not only could we compete on that level but also that now it is going to become more of a habit. The foundation was laid over the last few years that we were going to compete on a championship level in the state. So this was another building block in that foundation for our kids. The program is really doing great things.”

In three years as head coach at Holy Cross, Young says his team has discovered an unparalleled sense of confidence. During his first season, the team beat Mercy for the first time in school history, which instilled within the program the conviction that they could not only compete with the dominant programs in the region but could beat them.

Some difficult times also came along the way, but it was nothing that could break this team’s morale. Throughout their process, they had their ups and downs in big games, all of which culminated with advancing to the sixth region championship last season, where they came up short against Mercy. Coach Young called it a learning process where his group of girls was “learning how to perform on those big stages.”

The beauty of competition is that it can bring out the best within a person at the peak of an unbearable struggle. After taking leaps in the right direction in a short amount of time, Holy Cross started the 2016 season 1-5, and awaiting them was the prowess of regional powerhouses Butler and Fern Creek.

“We had a lot of adversity at the beginning of the season. With young girls, young teenage minds are very impressionable, and they listened early on to too many voices who said they weren’t supposed to be good this year because we had success for the last couple of years,” Young adds.

After losing five four-year starters, Holy Cross listened more to the doubters than to themselves.

“Once they started believing in themselves, they gained the ability to be good and turn it around. Early on in the season, they just had to learn how to work and win as this year’s team. You can’t live in what last year’s team did. So they had to find an identity. We did, and they are a great group of kids.”

And after the team made it to the state tournament for the first time in the program’s history, Young anticipates their success carrying over in years to come.

“My expectation for the future is to anticipate winning the region each year and going to the state tournament as the habit,” he says. “That way, we are competing for that state championship on a year-in and year-out basis. I envision the program over the next few years as one of the top five programs in the state. We are definitely on the path headed in that direction. Three years in a row, we continued to track uphill. We have to maintain that. Once we stop being the hunters, we have to play as the hunted. But right now, we are the hunters.” VT