By Jeff White (email@example.com)
CHARLOTTESVILLE –– When it was her turn at the microphone Friday afternoon, University of Virginia head softball coach Joanna Hardin thanked those whose efforts have made Palmer Park possible, and she spoke of what the new stadium means to her and the program. She also alluded to the less-than-stellar venues the Cavaliers have called home over the years.
“To all the alums that are here, we wish you could have played in this facility,” Hardin said.
“So do we!” replied Kim Furphy, to laughter from the alumni, donors, architects, UVA officials and Virginia Athletics Foundations staffers who joined her at the Palmer Park dedication and ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Furphy, who played catcher for UVA in the late 1980s, was standing near former teammates Nancy Graf and Joanne Webster Norford. They were there to see the new stadium and to support Lisa Palmer, with whom they played at Virginia.
“This is amazing,” Furphy said.
The stadium is named for Palmer, who starred at pitcher for the Cavaliers, and her mother, Fran. A lead gift from the Palmers helped it become reality. From 1995 through 2019, the Wahoos played their home games at The Park, a no-frills stadium located in a distant corner of North Grounds.
— Virginia Cavaliers (@VirginiaSports) March 6, 2020
Palmer Park provides fans, players and coaches with all the amenities The Park lacked. On the corner of Massie and Copeley Roads, it’s near Lannigan Field, Klöckner Stadium, Disharoon Park and John Paul Jones Arena.
“A facility like this, it’s insane,” said Erika Osherow, who was a senior for the Hoos last season. “I almost don’t have words for how cool it is. I’m just really happy for the program.”
For each of her final three years in the program, Osherow received a scholarship endowed by the Palmers. It’s awarded annually to a player who exemplifies leadership, hard work and dedication to the team.
“Lisa has become such a role model for me,” Osherow said of Palmer, who lives in Jacksonville, Fla., and is president and chief executive officer of Regency Centers Corp.
UVA played its first game at Palmer Park on Tuesday, but the official dedication was scheduled for Friday, so the Palmers could be present.
Lisa Palmer traveled to Charlottesville in November and saw the stadium taking shape, “but it was nothing like this at that time,” she said. “This is beautiful.”
UVA’s director of athletics, Carla Williams, was among those who spoke during the brief ceremony that preceded the ceremonial ribbon-cutting.
“This day is for the hopes and dreams of little girls in the Commonwealth of Virginia and beyond,” Williams said.
Later, turning to the Palmers, Williams said, “Your love for this softball program and this university is what’s brought us here today.”
Interested observers included the current Cavaliers, for whom Williams had some counsel.
“Ladies, do not fear failure,” Williams said. “If you happen to come up short, try again, and then try again.”
The dedication ceremony, sophomore pitcher Aly Rayle said later, was “an incredible moment for the program. Just knowing that we have the backing of so many of the people that have stood before us and played here really means a lot to everybody on the team.”
In her remarks, Lisa Palmer said, “I can’t wait to see UVA softball in the top 10.”
The new stadium is already paying dividends in recruiting, but Hardin’s fourth team at Virginia is extraordinarily inexperienced. Riley Wilkinson, a graduate transfer from Princeton, is the only Cavalier in her final year of eligibility.
UVA opened a three-game series with No. 19 Virginia Tech at Palmer Park on Friday afternoon. The Hokies won 4-0, dropping Virginia to 8-10 overall and 0-4 in the ACC.
In their first ACC series, the Cavaliers were swept last weekend at Clemson, and they’ll face more adversity as the season progresses. Win or lose, Hardin said, the goal remains the same.
“We need to get better,” she said. “We need to show improvement. Clemson was the first time across the board every one of our players was in a big stadium, big game, big crowd, under the lights, with a crowd that’s involved. We just haven’t had those opportunities.
“In the ACC, depending on the weekend, you get some decent crowds, but really and truly that was the first time. It was a championship atmosphere … and I think it kind of opened our eyes a little bit, like, ‘Wow, this is what we want to do. This is what we expect to be in.’ Same thing this weekend.”
Virginia managed only one hit off Virginia Tech ace Keely Rochard, a second-inning single by Donna Friedman. Rochard, who leads the nation in strikeouts with 153, fanned 10 on Friday. Five of those Ks came on called third strikes.
“We’re successful when we’re aggressive at the plate, and we got a little passive, I think,” Hardin said. “We’ve got to flip that around and give ourselves a chance.”
Rayle started for the Hoos and struck out eight in 4.2 innings. Three home runs, all off Rayle, accounted for the Hokies’ runs.
“I thought Aly threw really, really well,” Hardin said. “Against Virginia Tech, Clemson, Florida State, North Carolina, Louisville, if you miss, they’re going to make you pay for it. We know that, and the margin for error is very small against those teams. But you have to learn [about] those moments, and you can’t learn if you’re not in them, and typically you learn by failing.”
The Hoos host the Hokies (17-4, 1-0) again at 1 p.m. Saturday and 1 p.m. Sunday.
Fran Palmer threw out the ceremonial first pitch Friday, and Hardin was behind the plate to catch it.
“She rocked,” Hardin said, smiling.
To have Lisa and Fran at the game “was awesome,” Hardin said. “I love them, and I’m so glad they’re here this weekend. They’re just unbelievable women.”
Lisa Palmer is “growing the game, and she’s doing it by giving us an opportunity to pursue our goals and our dreams,” Hardin said. “These athletes, they know how special this is, because they [played at The Park] before, so they know, and we don’t take it lightly. We know that to whom much is given, much is expected, and we’ve got to put in the work. We’ve been working, but it doesn’t stop.”