When one thinks about legends, the words “Once upon a time” come to mind.
In the sporting world, the word legend conjures up memories of improbable acrobatic layups by Michael Jordan or Julius Erving, dramatic postseason home runs by Reggie Jackson, Joe Montana touchdown passes and dramatic game-winning goals by Wayne Gretzky.
Narrowing the focus a bit, Southern Illinois has had its share of legendary performers – Walt Frazier, Carl Mauck, Bart Scott, Steve Finley, Mike Glenn, Joe C. Meriweather and Jim Hart come to mind.
Then, there are the coaching legends – William McAndrew, Abe Martin, Itchy Jones, Kay Brechtelsbauer, Cindy Scott, Connie-Price Smith, Jerry Kill, Don DeNoon and Charlotte West. Although most of us are too young to have seen all these coaches in action, their names are familiar – facilities on campus have been named after them.
There is another legend to add to that list. There is no “Once upon a time” attached to her name. In fact, she’s still looking to the future – not at what facility will one day bear her name, but how to win the next game.
A person’s resume has to be pretty impressive to earn legendary status while still active, but Kerri Blaylock fits the bill.
The Herrin native has coached the SIU softball program since 2000. She recently became SIU’s all-time winningest coach (745 wins at the conclusion of the Missouri Valley Conference tournament.) If you don’t have a calculator in front of you, that works out to about 34 wins per year. The Salukis have won at least 30 games in 18 of her 22 years.
Those numbers would be a bit more impressive if COVID-19 hadn’t wiped out half of the 2020 campaign. The Salukis were 15-6 and rolling when the pandemic shut down NCAA athletic competition.
That’s impressive enough, but Blaylock’s winning percentage is .648. That means if you’ve faced any of Blaylock’s teams in a weekend series, it’s likely you lost two of three games.
Digging a bit deeper, Blaylock’s Salukis have won 40 games three times, the high-water mark being 47 wins in 2005. SIU has had just two losing seasons under her tutelage.
And, she shows no signs of slowing down.
After defeating Northern Iowa in the MVC title game, the Salukis stand at 37-14. The MVC tournament title propelled SIU to its ninth NCAA berth under Blaylock. The Dawgs enjoyed a five-year run of NCAA appearances from 2003-07.
And, the Salukis had to overcome the loss of Ashley Wood this season. Wood, the shortstop and clean-up hitter, was lost to a knee injury after just 15 games this season. She was hitting .317 with a .451 on-base percentage, two homers and 12 RBI when she was hurt.
However, as always, Blaylock’s team gutted it out.
Although seeded fourth in the MVC tournament, the Salukis knocked off Drake, Illinois State and Northern Iowa to earn an NCAA berth. Sophomore hurler Sarah Harness yielded just two runs in the tournament while senior Jenny Jansen hit dramatic home runs in all three games.
That’s the way legends do it. That’s the way legends grow. Blaylock’s passion and competitive fire is clearly visible in her teams. They don’t go down without a fight.
Now, the Salukis got a tough draw in the tournament, being forced to travel to Tempe, Arizona. But, that’s a tale for another day.
LES WINKELER is the former sports editor of The Southern Illinoisan. Contact him at email@example.com, on Twitter @LesWinkeler.