PART ONE: LIFE AFTER LOTEIF
November 1, 2017 is a day that changed the course of Louisiana softball forever. It's the day the the program imploded.
Facing allegations of verbal and physical abuse, Louisiana fired head softball coach Michael Lotief. He and some former players called the move retaliation for Lotief raising Title IX allegations against the school.
"It's surreal how cold-hearted it's been. It's surreal how unfactual it's been," Lotief expressed at a press conference at the time.
Suspended in October, fired in November. In a matter of weeks Lotief went from beloved head coach, to fired. And many of the players went with him.
"I think as a whole, we decided we either want to transfer or not play at all this season," said former All-American Aleah Craighton moments after the team was informed of Lotief's dismissal. She was one of more than a dozen players who left the team. In a matter of days the Cajuns' softball program, one of the best in the country, was crumbling.
But In stepped the knight in sunglasses and a ball cap.
Three weeks after firing Lotief, Louisiana hired Gerry Glasco, a former Texas A&M assistant. A college softball coach told me at the time that Gerry was the real deal. That was spot on.
Coach Glasco has been a hit with the fans, the media and his players.
"You feel like he cares about you more than just a player, but as a person," said senior outfielder Sarah Hudek. "He's someone I can go to for softball things, but personal things as well."
The Cajuns didn't miss a beat in 2018. Summer Ellyson emerged as one of the country's top pitchers. The team won 41 games, advancing to the Baton Rouge Regional final. The Cajuns weren't back. They never left.
"I think you have to tip your hat to the kids that stayed in that 2018 season. They were a bunch of gritty fighters," said Coach Glasco. "That's a credit to the program, the history of the program. They knew how to win."
A major key to Louisiana's success was the use of the transfer portal. The Cajuns brought in several new players that season like Brittany Rodriguez and Alissa Dalton.
"We lost 13 or 14 transfers in the coaching change. Because we lost so much we had to rely on that same market. Giveth and taketh," Glasco says with a chuckle. "And because we gaveth a lot, we had to taketh a lot more back."
He went back to that well in 2019, landing Sarah Hudek, Keeli Milligan and Julie Rawles. The stage was set for an even bigger season. But before it could even begin, tragedy struck just days before it started.
In part two of this special, how the Cajuns proved their grit once again days after coach Glasco's daughter Geri Ann died.
PART TWO: GERI ANN
On January 24, 2018, just two weeks before Louisiana softball opened the season, tragedy struck the program right in the heart when Geri Ann Glasco died in a car accident on I-10.
She was team assistant and daughter to head coach Gerry Glasco.
"I remember at the funeral saying I don't know if I can coach," he recalls, just days before the one year anniversary of Geri Ann's death. "I question if I could go back and coach because it seemed unimportant."
"There is not a rule book on how to deal with something so tragic. No parent should have to go through that," added senior outfielder Sarah Hudek. "For him to come out here and worry about being a head coach. It just goes to show how strong he is as a man and a coach."
Geri Ann's death rocked the university and softball community. That season was one of the hardest on Gerry.
"I didn't want to argue with umpires last year because I was afraid I might lose control. When I argue, normally I'm under control. It might not always look like it, but I know exactly what I'm doing," he said. "I was afraid I'd lose control. But I wanted to win as bad as I ever wanted to win."
And the Cajuns did win --a lot.
Louisiana won 52 games. The program's first 50-win season since 2012. The team came within two outs of winning the Oxford Regional but for a second straight year, it was a disappointing end to an emotional season.
2020 is a chance for redemption, a chance to make a championship run. Preseason polls rank the team 8th in the nation. Who is better to carry the weight of those expectations than a team that's been to hell and back, twice.
A team that has been tested like few others.
"Life isn't always easy, but your job when we step on the ball field, that's our refuge. I tell them, when we walk into the dugout, walk onto the field, let this be our refuge. All we have to do is play a game. A little game of softball," Glasco said. "They have done that extremely well and will continue to do that."