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A title drought but not an ounce of doubt for Florida State softball

Redshirt seniors Alex Powers and Jessica Burroughs are determined to win Florida State's first NCAA softball title. Courtesy Florida State

TALLAHASSEE, Fla. -- If history is written by the winners, Alex Powers has a story she's itching to tell.

The redshirt senior wasn't alive when Florida State won the final AIAW edition of the Women's College World Series in 1982, the same year UCLA won softball's first NCAA title. She was similarly absent for the six appearances in the NCAA event that the Seminoles made when JoAnne Graf was coach. But Powers was in the dugout when Florida State returned to Oklahoma City after a 10-year hiatus in 2014. And she was there a year ago when her team made it to the semifinals.

Florida State has more NCAA World Series appearances without a title than any other school, its nine trips two more than Nebraska, Oklahoma State, Tennessee and Texas A&M. But the history that concerns Powers involved the two most recent trips. With an opening-day lineup likely to feature at least five players who were part of both World Series and nine starters from last season's semifinal against Auburn, Florida State's experience is both its asset and motivation.

"We know we have the talent," Powers said. "We have the experience. Now it's just getting into those uncharted waters of we've never been there, we've never been in a national championship game. But we're fully prepared to embrace that moment and that opportunity. We have every belief, every ounce of confidence that we can do that. We can win.

"We're a force to be reckoned with. And if people aren't scared of us, I don't know what they're thinking. Because they should be."

Sports, of course, don't operate on the principle of seniority. Oklahoma, which won the national title a season ago with a sophomore pitcher and a lineup full of freshmen, is merely one of the more recent examples of that. You don't win just because it's your turn and you've been waiting. But the two fifth-year Seminoles who have waited longest, ACC Player of the Year Powers and All-American pitcher Jessica Burroughs, embody useful experience.

They haven't just been growing older -- they've been getting ready.

Powers is known to teammates by the nickname "Pap" -- not as some kind of homage to her age but as shorthand for "Princess Alex Powers." Asked for an example of the source material, teammate Jessica Warren didn't have to delve very far into the memory bank. Not long ago, as Warren told it, Powers got her nails done. Upon scuffing one in practice that same day, she went back and had them redone the following day.

"We're a force to be reckoned with. And if people aren't scared of us, I don't know what they're thinking. Because they should be." Alex Powers

But those manicured fingers are the same ones that will adjust the ice bags on her knees when the long season makes them ache. Successive knee injuries in her first two seasons, one to each knee, didn't stop her from becoming one of the best all-around players in the country.

"What she has done and what she has created," Florida State coach Lonni Alameda said, "it has just blown us all away."

It was the final day of fall practice of her true freshman year in 2013 when Powers felt her right knee give way as she made the turn at first base in a baserunning drill. A freshman in a new environment (and living on the fourth floor of her dorm, at that), there was some anger but more confusion. It was, in her words, "kind of a disaster" to manage the emotions. The real anger came 10 months later, again running the bases in a drill, when she heard the pop in her left knee.

She chose the surgical option that promised a quicker recovery but also a higher risk of persistent knee pain. She returned in time to pinch hit down the stretch for the 2014 World Series team, doubles turned into singles because she could only get to first base. Yet when the team gathered this season, she was one of those who set the pace in the mile run.

It makes it a little bit difficult for anyone else to feel sorry for herself.

"I'm definitely able to lift more, work out more, run faster than I ever have before," Powers said. "And mentally it definitely made me a lot stronger. You learn to accept the things you can't really control, and that's a lot to do with softball. You hit a ball well, and if someone makes a diving catch, you can't really control that. Hats off to you for making a great play, but I did what I needed to do."

It wasn't an injury that kept Burroughs off the field when she arrived with Powers prior to the 2013 season. Nor was it her choice. She thought she would come in and pitch. Alameda looked at a roster that already included Lacey Waldrop and Monica Perry and decided it wouldn't be fair to Burroughs to keep her active for a handful of innings -- and it wouldn't be fair to the program to burn a valuable future resource in similar fashion. So over objections, Burroughs redshirted.

Much to her benefit, as it turned out.

"I got caught up in social life," Burroughs said of her freshman experience. "Everything was pulling me in different directions. I'm a social butterfly. That was a really good year for me to figure out myself more. I really, truly believe that you can be your best self -- best player, best teammate -- when you figure out yourself first."

By her own admission, she gets bored too easily to play a position that doesn't put the ball in her hand as often as pitching. (She missed a throw and broke her nose the last time she tried to play third base in high school.) But one of the things she enjoys about the role is the time it affords in practice, once her bullpen session is complete, to sit and watch how everyone else interacts. She participated in golf and gymnastics growing up, not because she has a solitary bent, but because they were a chance to connect with her dad and sister, respectively.

"She's goofy -- she's so goofy," Warren said of Burroughs. "She's always making people smile. She's kind of the go-to on the team. If you need to talk, just go to her. She's got all the advice in the world."

Nowhere is that more the case than with fellow pitcher and redshirt sophomore Meghan King. The two complement each other as pitchers. One is right-handed, the other left-handed. One is at her best pitching up in the zone, the other down in the zone. They pitched an almost identical number of innings a season ago. They were responsible for 54 of the team's 55 wins. And it is a true partnership, not two solo entities waiting for an opportunity to take the other's innings.

It is the same way Waldrop treated Burroughs when there were innings to be shared in 2014.

"I think you have to be so selfless, but yet you have to have an ego in the circle," Alameda said of Burroughs. "That's a hard thing to balance. You have to be so appreciative of your bullpen because you can't be 'me, me, me' all the time. But you've got to be 'me, me, me,' too."

Florida State is a complete team. The third captain, senior Ellie Cooper, does everything well, though that diverse portfolio is sometimes overshadowed by those around her. Morgan Klaevemann stole 53 bases with an on-base percentage better than .500 a season ago. Third baseman Warren led the team in home runs and RBIs. They get run production of out catcher Sydney Broderick, who more than held her own after arriving last season as a transfer from BYU.

It really is a team ready to win. Not just because they're due, but because they are ready.

"Who knows right now what's going to happen with this team?" Alameda said. "But it's the most prepared -- mentally, physically, emotionally -- team that we've ever had here. And the most prepared I've ever been around."