🎙 The Jayhawker Podcast | Jennifer McFalls
Episode 28: Jennifer McFalls | July 23, 2020
From a career perspective, it’s hard to top winning an Olympic gold medal. For Kansas softball coach Jennifer McFalls, that dream came true in 2000, when she helped Team USA to Olympic glory.
It was a long and winding road to get there, with plenty of successes—and disappointments—along the way.
This week on The Jayhawker Podcast, we take you along for the ride to Olympic gold and hear firsthand from the hero that scored the game-winning run in the Gold Medal Game in Sydney. It was a career-defining moment for McFalls as a player, but it almost didn’t happen.
After having to watch the 1996 Olympics from the stands as a Team USA alternate, McFalls knew the 2000 games would be her golden opportunity to finally represent her country on the field on softball’s biggest stage. Though the United States squad traveled Down Under as heavy favorites, they fell three times in the pool play portion of the Olympic games.
To put that in perspective, McFalls had only ever lost three times TOTAL in over 100 career appearances with Team USA and suddenly three more losses piled up early in Sydney. The pressure was mounting and their margin for error was gone entering bracket competition.
“Losing was not an option,” recalled McFalls. “It was never in USA Softball’s vocabulary.”
McFalls and her teammates thought they were cursed. One more loss would mean the end of their Olympic dreams, so desperate times called for desperate curse-breaking measures.
“After we lost our third game we went back to house and we were like, ‘What is the matter with us? We have been cursed!’,” remembered McFalls. “So somebody had this idea that we would turn the showers on, go in with our uniforms on and just wash the voodoo off and everybody did this little chant… to try to scare the voodoo off of our uniforms. It was a pretty laughable moment.”
Fully soaked in superstition, the mood was definitely lightened that night and then the next day with their Olympic hopes on the line, a little extra motivation arrived just when they needed it from a Hall of Fame baseball coach.
The USA softball and baseball teams stayed next to each other in the Olympic village and Team USA Baseball coach Tommy Lasorda decided to impart a little advice as the girls loaded the bus. McFalls recalls his pep talk making quite an impression:
“Hey girls, get over here! I’ve gotta talk to you,” yelled Lasorda. “You just got to forget about everything else that has happened. Today is the day you go out and play for the name that’s across your chest, NOT for the name across your back. It’s all about USA Softball. It’s all about your team. You know how to win!”
McFalls said Lasorda’s words changed everything for her and her teammates.
“We were hanging on every single word and when we got back on that bus and it was a totally different atmosphere,” described McFalls. “We knew we were gonna fight and we knew we would come out on top.”
And that’s exactly what they did, rattling off wins over China, Australia and Japan with McFalls scoring the game-winning runs in each of the last two games.
It was a euphoric moment when she crossed home to clinch Olympic gold and the fulfillment of a lifelong dream. Hear McFalls describe what that feeling was like and then what immediately came next when it was time to hang up her cleats for good and pursue a new chapter within the sport she loves: Coaching.
On this episode of The Jayhawker, we also chronicle McFalls’ path through the high school coaching ranks in Texas, as well an eight-year stint as an assistant at the University of Texas. It was valuable experience filled with plenty of success that paved the way for McFalls to land her own Big 12 head coaching job at Kansas in 2018.
Hear what experiences – like winning gold in Sydney – shaped McFalls into the coach she is today, as well as her vision for the KU Softball program. It’s all included on the latest addition of The Jayhawker.