TUSCALOOSA, AL – Alyson Habetz has long been in a league of her own.
It began when she was in high school at Notre Dame in Crowley and sucessfuly sued to play boys' baseball instead of softball, and the legend grew from there.
She went to then-USL and won multiple letters in women's basketball on the way to the top 10 spot in scoring in program history.
Not content with just one sport, Habetz joined the softball team to play for coach Yvette Girouard's squad that was rapidly climbing in notoriety, reaching the Women's College Worls Series for the first time in 1993.
Once she graduated with honors with a degree in commerce, the multi-talented Habetz played four years as an outfielder and pitcher in the women's professional baseball league – three years with the Colorado Silver Bullets and another season with the Long Beach Aces.
Not surprisingly, Habetz was inducted into the UL Athletic Hall of Fame in 2003.
But, as good as she was as a player, Habetz has proven even more successful as a collegiate softball coach.
“To have the opportunity to make an impact on the lives of young, female athletes, to watch them grow in four years with the program, is a beautiful thing,” Habetz said. “You see them come on campus like a deer in headlights, and then to graduate and mature.
“When you come to Alabama, you have an ego. But you learn success doesn't come overnight. You have to buy in. To teach softball is great, but it's more than that. They know their future is not in softball. They know they have to get their degree.”
Great role model
“Alyson is a great role model for our players, and for future recruits,” said UA coach Pat Murphy, who learned the ropes under Girouard at UL when Habetz was there and has made her an integral part of everything the Tide does.
“She is one of the most outstanding people I have met. She was a dream to coach and is even better to coach with. I think she is the best assistant coach in the country.”
Murphy supported his assessment by naming Habetz associate head coach three years ago.
“When I was at UL, I had so much to do with basketball, softball and class, I didn't have time to do anything elase,” Habetz said. “That does the work for you.”
She also learned perspective from losing seasons in basketball contrasting softball's success.
“We had a lot of tough times, and that was a blessing,” she said. “I probably learned more from basketball. It made me tougher, made me appreciate success. We had fewer wins, but no regrets.
“I learned perseverance, how to get people going.”
World Series fever
Now in her 23rd year at Bama, Habetz has coached in 12 WCWS appearanes including the 2012 national title squad.
She has vivid memories of the Cajuns' WCWS trip in 1993, as well as Bama's crown in 2012.
“It's like yesterday to this day,” she said of UL's debut on that stage. “We were in left field (bleachers) waiting for the game before us to finish, and when we walked out onto the field, Cajun fans erupted. It gave me goosebumps from my head to my toes.
“We had finally made it. It was electrifying. Another level. Obviously we were the underdogs. But we were there to make a statement.
“Our 2012 (Bama) team was very special. When they were freshmen, the 2012 seniors said their class was going to win an NCAA title. They were selfless, and preached that to others.
“We had a lot of adversity, played a lot of games in the rain. When we got to the finals against Oklahoma, and it rained, I think it got to them. We were fine. And, every time we lost, we never lost two in a row.”
Murphy and Habetz make sure the Tide players live up to high expectations enjoyed in all sports at the school.
In charge of outfielders, offense and recruiting, she has developed a trio of four-time outfield All-Americans – Kelly Kratschman. 1998-2001; Brittany Rogers, 2006-09; Haylie McClarey, 2013-16.
The total package
“If ever there were someone who epitomized the total package as a student athlete, it was Alyson,” Girouard said. “I remember one weekend where she played for the basketball team, then joined us in South Carolina for an important weekend series.
“She played for a basketball program that really struggled and also played softball with a team that was shooting for national honors. Through it all, she handled it with perspective and grace.”
Girouard tried without success to get Habetz on her staff when Habetz was still with the Silver Bullets, but Murphy had the timing to get her on board at Bama.
“Pat is probably one of the best teachers there is, but Alyson is the secret weapon of that program,” Girouard said. “She can recruit any kid in the country. She's got you after 5 minutes with her.
“She's dynamite on and off the field.”
Baseball her first love
Habetz never hid her love for baseball - “From the time I was 10 years old, all I wanted was to play for the Los Angeles Dodgers,” she said – but it took a titanic struggle to make that happen.
“Then, my freshman year at Notre Dame, I was told girls couldn't play baseball with the boys. I said, 'WHAT?' We appealed it, then took it to court, lost, then won on appeal.
“I was in Coach Gaspard's class, and he said, 'You won,' and the whole class erupted.”
Still, when Habetz signed an athletic scholarship at UL, it was in basketball. So she walked on in softball under Girouard, and was an All-American a sport that would become her career.
But not right away. There was this love of baseball, and a women's professional baseball league beckoned.
Habetz finished her softball eligibility, then got a tryout with the Colorado Silver Bullets while finishing up her final year of basketball. When she made the team, it was every bit as special as she had imagined.
“It was a dream come true, without a doubt,” she said. “Barnstorming, pitching in Fenway Park, the Baseball Hall of Fame, Abner Doubleday. I had dreamed it since I was 10 years old, and my dreams came true.
“It's something that I will treasure forever.”
She was never afraid to find, or create, a league of her own.
* * * * * * *SIDEBAR
Historic tryout paves way for new Habetz highway
By Bruce Brown
Alyson Habetz was strolling across UL's campus as a freshman when she saw signs calling for softball tryouts with coach Yvette Girouard's growing program.
At the time, Habetz was on scholarship as a basketball player after famously fighting to earn the right to compete against boys in varsity baseball while at Notre Dame of Crowley.
But softball piqued her interest.
“I had never thought about softball, never seen females play fastpitch,” Habetz said. “I walked by the (UL) field and thought, great, they've got a miniature baseball field. Then I saw the sign for tryouts and decided to try it.
“They asked me what I played, and I went over to first base. I stood behind the bag, and Coach Girouard said move up, and I thought 'OK, bunt coverage.' She said 'keep coming.' I thought, 'I like having my teeth.'
“Then the first pitch I saw was from Stefni Whitton. It was different. I certainly never thought I would be coaching softball this long.”
Girouard, currently an announcer for softball and volleyball telecasts, recalled that first encounter.
“She was playing basketball in the gym, and asked me for a tryout,” Girouard said. “So she set up behind first base, because that's where she wanted to play. She was way behind the bag, and I told her to move way up. This isn't baseball.
“She said, 'Are you kidding me? How am I supposed to beat them to the bag?' I said, 'You'd better figure it out quick.' ”
“I was scared of Girouard,” Habetz admitted. “She was a fierce competitor. The last thing you wanted to do was disappoint her. You did NOT want to let her down. She demanded excellence in everything you did.
“That was part of the tradition.”
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Alyson (2nd from left seated) with her 1994 Softball teammates. Click Photo Gallery on left side of home page, then Softball or Basketball for photos of the years Alyson played each sport. Click here for the 1994 Softball Photo Gallery.
Click here for Alyson's Athletic Network Profile and the wonderful story about her relationship with Tommy Lasorda.
Alyson's family was there in 2003 when she was inducted into the UL Athletic Hall of Fame. Please click here for the Photo Gallery of that event.
* * * * * * Click here for the 2007-present annual/chronological listings of the Spotlight on Former Athletes.