Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Andi Williamson Steps Into Justin's World

(c) Lori Thompson/All rights reserved. Used by
If you're looking for someone to fill the category of "legend" in the history books of Marshall Thundering Herd softball. Surely one of the greatest to don a Herd uniform, you'd be hard pressed if not incapable of finding a hurler, from either side of the rubber, that put up more impressive statistics or enjoyed a more dominant career.

Williamson's collegiate career got off to a rocky start - rarely called upon as a freshman at Tennessee, a transfer to Marshall earned her plenty of playing time but not much success, as she finished her sophomore campaign with a 7-12 record and a 3.66 ERA.

Prior to her junior season, something clicked and she proceeded to turn

in two of the finest season-long pitching performances in recent memory. In 2012, she won a record twenty-five games in the circle and sent 268 batters down via the strikeout. A year later, she bettered her own record by winning thirty-three games and striking out 364.

As famous for her warm personality and thick West Virginia accent as she is for her unique windup and on-field success, she found her way to the NPF shortly after her collegiate career ended and joined the Chicago Bandits. Pitching in the Windy City for two seasons before being traded twice this offseason - first to the Pennsylvania Rebellion, then to the USSSA Pride - Andi became a fan favorite once again, this time in front of a national audience.

With the Pride, Williamson looks to regain her rookie-season form and fill a mid-rotation spot for the defending league champions.

Among the many topics Andi and I discussed were:

  • Beginning her career at Tennessee and transferring to Marshall
  • The 13-inning marathon games against Virginia Tech in the 2013 Regional
  • Being a part of the first-ever championship-winning Herd squad
  • Differences between softball in Japan and softball in the US
  • Whether a coaching career is in her future
  • And much more!

Justin’s World: How did you get your start playing softball? How old were you when you really realized this was YOUR game, and something you were excelling at?
Andi Williamson: I started playing softball when I was 6 and I started pitching when I was 7. The reason I became a pitcher was actually because I was the only one strong enough on my team to be able to do it. Honestly, I can say I've been in love with the game ever since I started. I always did well so I knew there could be a future for me in this game so I was very determined to work and get better. I played softball, basketball, was a gymnast and a cheerleader, so I did all those sports until my senior year of high school and that's when I decided to just focus on softball.

Justin’s World: You started your career at UT-Knoxville. Tell me what it was like to play for the Weeklys, and what intrigued you about the Lady Vols and made you want to join the squad.
Andi Williamson: Well, actually, the main reason I wanted to go there because it was close to home and I always had dreamed of going to Tennessee since I watched Monica Abbott play there when they were in the WCWS. I had a pitching coach I worked with my senior year from Tennessee, Stephanie Sayne, and I owe a lot of my success to her because I wouldn't be the pitcher I am today without her; she truly helped me develop as a pitcher and she helped me a lot my freshman year at Tennessee. The Weeklys have built a great program at Tennessee and I'm sure they will continue being successful.

Justin’s World: Then, after transferring to Marshall, you pretty much became the staff ace. Tell me what being a member of the Herd means to you!
Andi Williamson: It's an honor to be a part of the Herd; it's where my father went to college and played basketball and it's my home state. So it meant more being able to step out on the field and represent the Thundering Herd in the circle. I made so many wonderful friends and memories there and I had great coaches who pushed me to become a better player and person.

Justin’s World: Let’s go back to the thirteen-inning game in regionals against Virginia Tech… you and VT’s pitcher were matched solidly and each of you threw the entire game, if memory serves. Tell me what was going through your mind as inning by inning ticked by, and then ultimately, how deflating it was when the game ended in an “L” for your team.
Andi Williamson: Honestly, I was just wanting to win- that was all I could think about. Just fighting for that win. I wasn't ready for our season to end. So when we ended up getting that loss, it seriously broke my heart, but I'm thankful that we had the opportunity to put Marshall softball on the map and represent the Herd on the field in its first NCAA regional appearance.

Justin’s World: You were a part of the first-ever Herd championship. Tell me about that postseason run and what it was like when the final out of the championship game was recorded and y’all were officially the champs!
Andi Williamson: Once we got runner-up my junior year, we decided we were going to be champions the following year - anything less would've been unsatisfying. So we worked super hard in our off-season and during season, if we had a bad game or something, coach Stanton would reassure us by saying, "It's okay, we are still going to be the best team in Marshall Softball History." And we truly believed that, so to finally win that championship was such a relief and an amazing feeling. It was and will always be one of my favorite softball memories!

(c) Sheri Eggert Samson/All rights reserved.
Justin’s World: Moving onto your professional career… tell me how you first heard about the NPF and when you determined that playing in the league was something that you’d like to pursue.
Andi Williamson: I actually first heard about it through my coach Amanda Williams; she was a big supporter and worked on getting my name out there to the NPF. Literally two days after we lost to VT, I got a call from the Chicago Bandits inviting me to come be a part of the team, and I figured that was a wonderful opportunity that I had worked towards my whole life so I might as well give it a chance.

Justin’s World: When you weren’t drafted in 2013, did you think that was it for you, that your career would end when your college season ended?
Andi Williamson: Well honestly, I didn't even really keep up with the draft so I didn't even know. I was so focused on my season at Marshall and winning that championship that I wasn't even thinking about the future because I was so caught up in the moment. However, when we lost to VT, I thought my softball career was over but my mother kept telling me ‘Andi, I have a feeling it isn't over for you’ and she was right!

Justin’s World: You play in Japan during the NPF off-season, so tell me some of the biggest differences and similarities between playing ball overseas and playing ball here at home.
Andi Williamson:  It is really different - the culture of the game, the practices, the routines before the game and different things like that. There is a different rule when it comes to pitching because in Japan you are allowed to crow hop, whereas here in the USA you are not. The game is played a little different over there and the culture of the game is different, but it's basically still one ball, three strikes, four bases! The language barrier makes it a little more difficult to communicate but I am getting better at my Japanese... *laughs*

Justin’s World: Give me your thoughts on the recent announcement of league expansion & what it means for the growth of the game as a whole.
Andi Williamson: I think that it's great, and I'm so excited for the new opportunities that this is going to open up for the NPF league. Also, this will allow more players to get the opportunity to play in the league, and I'm so excited to see what the future holds. 

Justin’s World: Have you thought of coaching at some level at some point? Is that an area you’d like to eventually pursue?
Andi Williamson: Yes, it definitely is. I would definitely like to get out there and coach at some point because I'm very competitive so that aspect of the game is one of my favorites. I think when I'm finished playing, I definitely would like to pursue coaching.

Justin’s World: Tell me your favorite moment or memory from your career.
Andi Williamson: Probably winning the 2013 CUSA Championship with the Herd!

Justin’s World: Fill in the blank: My funniest teammate ever is Taylor Winton from Marshall... she was just absolutely hilarious, and she always kept me laughing.

Justin’s World: Fill in the blank: If not for softball, I would probably be an FBI Agent or continued competitive gymnastics or basketball.

Justin’s World: Let’s say you were stranded on a deserted island, but could take three material objects with you. No boats, no phones (people are allowed, if you like). What would you take?
Andi Williamson: Bathing suit, sun tan oil, and some lemonade.

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