Tricia Popowski (1988-91) had a knack for making things happen on the softball diamond. Soon to be inducted into the University of South Carolina Athletics Hall of Fame sponsored by the Association of Lettermen, Popowski still ranks fourth in school history with 279 career hits, including an NCAA record 51 triples, and she was the second-hardest Carolina player to strike out in school history with just one strikeout every 23.7 at-bats.
“Records are great. They’re wonderful to have, but the most important thing is that I went to a tremendous school with amazing people,” Popowski said. “I got my degree, and when I left South Carolina, I couldn’t have been happier and more appreciative of what I had experienced there. It truly is a special place.”
Popowski earned a chance to be in a special place once again as one of eight members of the 2017 South Carolina Athletics Hall of Fame class being inducted on September 21. She was a three-time All-America selection, including first team honors in 1989 and 1991, as an outfielder for the Gamecocks. She led the team in on-base percentage, triples, walks, and slugging percentage in each of her four seasons.
“I was speechless,” Popowski said of receiving her Hall of Fame phone call. “I was absolutely stunned. There are so many great athletes that have gone through South Carolina, so to receive an honor like that is very humbling.”
Popowski has been teaching health and physical education in New Jersey for the last 10 years and has been coaching a travel softball team for the last three years. She’s also the mother of ten year old twin girls, Ashley and Dakota, who also play softball. The New Jersey native decided to come to South Carolina after playing for a high level summer softball league that competed all around the country.
Everybody would dive after every ball and gave their best on every play. It was a special team of hard-nosed players,Tricia Popowski
“I was playing for the Budweiser Belles softball team, and a few of the girls were playing at the University of South Carolina,” Popowski said. “They spoke so highly of the University, their experience, and [head coach] Joyce Compton, that I just had to be part of it.
“When I came to campus, I already knew some of the girls, but everyone was so friendly. The whole athletics department just embraced everyone who came in. The transition was made easier because everyone cared for each other. They were genuine people, who were not only concerned about you as an athlete, but also as a person and your academics.”
Popowski was a part of South Carolina’s 1989 Women’s College World Series team, and has many fond memories of her years in the Garnet and Black.
“A lot of the friendships stand out,” Popowski said. “I had so much respect for Coach Compton. I felt so honored to be able to play for her and be around her. It was the competitiveness. I just remember how hard we played, and how much we wanted to win. Every player on the team is what they would call a ‘throwback player’ now. Everybody would dive after every ball and gave their best on every play. It was a special team of hard-nosed players. We were coached by a special coach.”
She earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees from South Carolina, and played softball after college for five different national teams, including the legendary Stratford Brakettes.
Popowski was able to return to campus a few years back while on vacation, and she was proud to visit Carolina Softball Stadium at Beckham field with her daughters.
“For me to be on the field with my kids and play catch with them was just a very special moment,” Popowski said.
Now she’s looking forward to being on campus once again for another special moment as she is inducted into the University of South Carolina Athletics Hall of Fame.
“Reconnecting with Coach Compton and getting to see her, and of course getting to share the experience with my kids is going to be great,” Popowski said. “They’ve never been to a major football game, so they’ll get to experience that. They’ve both said they want to play softball at South Carolina, so experiencing through their eyes what I experienced so many years ago is what I’m really looking forward to.”
Maybe they’ll learn to master the art of the three base hit and not striking out as well.
“Just hit that gap and run as fast as you can,” Popowski said.