Woodland graduate wins NAIA softball championship
by Jason Greenberg
Jun 05, 2014 | 1416 views | 0 0 comments | 41 41 recommendations | email to a friend | print
When former Woodland softball player Ainsley Faulk signed to play at Auburn University Montgomery in 2010, the program had only been in existence for three years and Faulk had little expectations for team succes at the fledgling program.

However, over Faulk’s first three years at Auburn Montgomery, the softball team became a regular in the NAIA World Series, and on May 29, Faulk’s team became NAIA National Champions.

“I remember the last pitch. It was a ground ball to third base and our third baseman picked it and ran, grinning the whole time, to third base for the out. All of us sprinted and jumped into each other’s arms at home plate. That’s a feeling I don’t think I’ll ever forget, for sure,” Faulk said. “Individually, it was a huge honor to get to play with a team that had that much talent and feeling like, no matter what I could or couldn’t contribute, my teammates would back me up.”

Winning the NAIA championship is not a feat Faulk had envisioned when she signed to play for the Warhawks.

“When I went there, the program was fairly new. Since I’ve been there, it got a press box and a stadium, stuff like that. They really didn’t have much when I first got there. I didn’t know that the program was going to be anything good,” Faulk said. “I had faith in the coach [Chris Steiner-Wilcoxson]. Our coach actually, when we won, said in tears, ‘I told you girls I was building a national championship team and we did it.’ So I trusted that that’s what she said she was going to do and that’s what we did.”

Faulk played in 44 of the team’s 51 games and started in 33, including each of the team’s eight games in the NAIA championship. The junior right fielder hit .322 and scored 22 runs on the season.

However, heading into the season, Faulk was not a starter on the Warhawks’ talented roster and had been primarily a courtesy runner as a sophomore. But because of injuries, Faulk got a chance to contribute.

“I wasn’t really starting at the beginning. We had a senior outfielder and she actually tore her ACL the second game of the season, and once she tore her ACL, a lot of us kind of looked at that as an opportunity to now show our skills and that helped,” she said. “We actually had several knee injuries this season. We had three ACL tears, one dislocated knee. We had outfielders going to the infield to play, infielders going to the outfield to play. We weren’t picked to win once we had those injuries. I think a lot of people at school thought it wouldn’t be that good of a year.”

The injuries were devastating to Faulk and the other members of the team because Auburn Montgomery was scheduled to move to the NCAA Division II for the 2015 season and it was thought that the 2014 season would be the last chance to compete for a national championship.

That move to NCAA Division II has now been delayed and AUM won the national title despite the injuries.

“It’s always been a goal,” Faulk said of winning the national championship. “We’ve been to the national championship every year since I’ve been here. My freshman year, we had a lot of talent, a lot of seniors, so I kind of got a taste for what the tournament was like. I think we finished seventh or eighth, and last year, seventh or eighth. This year, knowing we finished seventh or eighth for the past two years, we were hoping to do something bigger. I don’t know if anyone expected us to win or we even expected us to go all the way. We knew we wanted to. We knew we had more fight than anybody else.

“It was pretty emotional, after all the injuries and all the adversity we had overcome. It was really emotional to know that, after overcoming all that, we still made it.”

In winning the national championship, Faulk adds another layer to the Woodland softball program’s tradition. Woodland actually had four alumni who were members of teams that finished among the top three in the NAIA World Series.

In addition to Faulk, Sydney Flowers, Taylor Braselton and Randi Wimpy are all former Lady Wildcats who played for Reinhardt, which came in third.

Auburn Montgomery defeated Reinhardt in the tournament to advance to the final against William Carey.

“It’s tough and it’s cool,” Faulk said of playing against her former Woodland teammates. “It’s cool that Woodland’s got enough talent to play college. It’s kind of cool as far as that, but it’s also kind of nerve-racking knowing what they were capable of. That was pretty cool, but also pretty scary.

“After the game, we all shook hands and it was kind of a little high school reunion out there.”