While LSU has enjoyed its share of athletic accomplishments over the last decade, reaching those achievements has seldom been linear.
Safe to say that the hiring of Beth Torina falls into this category.
In her now nine seasons as head coach of the softball team, Torina has taken the Tiger program to a new level of dominance. She has taken the LSU to the Women’s College World Series finals four times including three years in a row from 2015 to 2017. She recorded her 500th career win as a head coach this year, a bulk of which came at LSU. Under Torina the Tigers have finished in the top-10 six years in a row and were the highest ranked team in the SEC when the 2020 season ended prematurely. The Tigers consistently field one of the best pitching staffs in the country and were leading the nation in ERA this season at .95. She also recruited and coached LSU’s only four time All-American Savannah Jaquish.
All pretty good for someone who wasn’t the top option when the position first opened.
Prior to the 2011 season, then head coach Yvette Girouard announced her retirement following the season. With plenty of time to name a successor, Joe Aleva went to work and successfully pulled then Alabama head coach Patrick Murphy to Baton Rouge. An assistant under Girouard at ULL, and a 712-210 in 13 seasons at Bama, Murphy seemed like a huge steal from an SEC foe. On June 11 Murphy stood in front of the media (which was also the same day baseball welcomed Alan Dunn) and proudly accepted the role as new Tiger head coach.
Three days later Murphy reneged on the offer. In his official remarks Murphy made reference to having a change of heart and not making the decision on any one tangible factor. It no doubt helped that his new contract at Alabama matched the roughly 60% salary increase which the Tigers had offered Murphy.
This ultimately set Joe Alleva back on the hunt for a new softball coach. One of the first options was Alyson Habetz, an assistant Murphy was bringing from Baton Rouge. She ultimately declined saying she was not ready to be a head coach, returned with Murphy to Tuscaloosa, and remains an assistant with the Tide to this day. During the first round of searches the Tigers had targeted Kentucky’s Rachel Lawson, who signed an extension with the Wildcats after LSU picked Murphy.
Reports say that LSU also considered then Houston head coach Kyla Holas, who pitched for Girouard, current Baylor head coach Glenn Moore, who was head coach before Gourard, and Notre Dame’s Deanna Gumpf.
On June 20th, the Tigers selected Torina. At the time Torina was the head coach at FIU, amassing a 129-111 record over four seasons highlighted by an upset win over Florida and an appearance in the NCAA Regionals. Prior to FIU and a handful of assisting positions, she pitched at Florida, and was part of a team that won the SEC.
Once the dust settled around the Torina hiring, there hasn’t been much chaos around the softball program, mostly celebration. She made Oklahoma City her first year with the Tigers and although the program has not been back to the WCWS finals in two years, there are no clear indicators that the program is heading in the wrong direction.
You can nitpick Torina’s resume with the Tigers. The program still is without a national title nor an SEC championship. While she has a winning record in the SEC, she has never dominated the competition during the regular season. LSU routinely has great pitching, but has struggled on offense. In short, the Tigers have been great but have not taken that last step.
Again these are nitpicks. If Torina were to leave the program now she would still have most appearances in the WCWS program history and led the program through its longest winning streak, 25 games. If the program keeps winning at the average level it has under Torina, she will have the most wins in program history.
Perhaps nothing is more a credit to the success Torina has built and sustained than the Mike Moore complex just outside of Tiger Park. The just opened 14,000 square foot facility has practice space and a weight room exclusive to the softball team. You seldom find softball programs with that much level of investment, and it’s not the kind of investment a non revenue sport gets for just existing in a competitive conference.
In 2011 LSU softball was on the brink of chaos. Now, under Torina, they stand at the brink of a championship.