Meleah Howard and national champs able to reset quickly to win title
Published 9:00 am Wednesday, May 31, 2023
After the Copiah-Lincoln softball team lost their first game on Friday to Jones College, the goal then became to extend the season one more day and win two later games on Friday to set up a final game on Saturday morning against Jones again — their biggest rivals.
And the eventual national champs from Wesson did that, by first beating Des Moines Area College and then Jones in a second meeting of the day between the teams.
The victory over Jones was a thrilling one where Co-Lin fought back to send the game to an extra inning and then exploded offensively in the eighth inning for an eventual 10-5 win.
Once that game was over, CLCC had roughly 12 hours before they’d meet Jones again, for the eighth time in 2023, with the winner being crowned as champ.
So as 10 p.m. on Friday approached, the Wolves had to get back to their hotel, figure out how to get some type of rest and then get up the next morning for a 10 a.m. first pitch in Spartanburg, South Carolina.
“We had a couple different people running in different directions making sure that the girls had something to eat and that we had ice ready for those that needed a cold plunge to recover,” said fifth year Co-Lin head coach Meleah Howard. “The goal was to get them to bed as quickly as possible.”
The area had a forecast for rain on Saturday morning, so there was a real possibility that the start time might get backed up.
On Saturday though, the team woke to overcast skies, but a dry playing surface. The game was on, and Howard could see that her group was ready.
“They just had that look about them where I knew they were ready,” said Howard. “We had so much energy from the start, and it felt like the momentum was ours.”
That had not been the case on Friday morning when Co-Lin met Jones in the national semifinals. Both teams had made it through the first three rounds of the tournament with unblemished records.
Jones won 5-3 and took the win right away from Co-Lin by scoring three runs in its final at-bat.
With a double elimination format, the Wolves couldn’t afford another misstep. The team went to their bus and regrouped.
“We had a two-hour break and we had someone go get them some Chick-fil-a and we went back to the bus to sit in the air and get some rest,” said Howard. “I let them look at their phones during that time and they played some music and sang along and put the Jones loss behind them and got ready to get back to work.”
That respite at the bus was a time for Co-Lin to figure things out and that’s one of the strengths that this coaching staff and roster showed throughout the season — the ability to recalibrate and figure out what works best for them.
In 2022, Howard’s team won the MACCC state title and set a school win mark with 42 victories. That team graduated an All-American pitcher among some other talented sophomores.
When Howard was hired to lead the program that she played for at a student-athlete, she and her staff attacked the job of recruiting with a dogged dose of determination. The freshmen on this team were freshmen in high school when Howard came aboard at CLCC.
The staff of Howard, Amber Beall and Drake Flowers made early offers to some of the best players this area has produced and started to pile up verbal commitments when many of those girls were a few years from ever suiting up for Co-Lin.
“I told my assistant coach after we’d gotten a couple of commitments from some of our top targets, after five or six of these players told us they were coming around the same time, I told her that we’re going to win a national championship with this group,” said Howard. “When you are able to sign girls that are good people and hard workers who hate to lose and who are also naturally talented — when you are able to get a group of players like that together, then you can do something special.”
Don’t think the 2023 season wasn’t one where Howard and her staff didn’t have to recalibrate and figure things out at times though.
In the second MACCC regular season series of the season, CLCC was swept by Northwest Mississippi in Senatobia. The team was 15-7 after those losses.
The next time out though, they swept Jones at home and went on nine-game winning streak.
Along the way, freshman Zykeria Cole emerged as the starter at first base. Freshman pitcher Cara Biswell became the ace of the pitching staff and the regular game one starter in league play.
The pitching staff showed lots of versatility as sophomore Belle West, sophomore Lila Blackburn and freshman Laney Waguespack gave Howard plenty of options to use as starters or relievers.
When freshman outfielder Bailee Goodson went to the bench with an injury, freshman Leia Phillips stepped up in left field.
“Someone asked me early in the year what kind of team we’d have and I knew that we’d be deeper than any group since I’ve been here,” said Howard. “You’ve still got to show up and prove that you can do it, but I knew that we had a lot of talent up and down the roster.”
As is the custom for the tournament winners, Howard was named Coach of the Tournament just prior to her receiving the national championship trophy.
It was the first time for a championship team to have a female head coach since the 2009 tournament, when Heartland (Illinois) CC won it all and was led by coach Shae Wesley.
Wesley then used that win as a springboard to become the head softball coach at Appalachian State University.
For those of us that are fans or alums or supporters of Co-Lin, what this team has done provided the type of smiles that can’t be wiped off very easily.
Co-Lin. National Champs. Just typing it seems surreal.
Bravo, Coach Howard. Bravo, ladies.
Cliff Furr is the sports editor at The Daily Leader. He can be reached via email at firstname.lastname@example.org.