Call it the “Jordy Bahl Effect.”
A Nebraska softball program that hasn't won a conference championship in 10 years enters this spring believing it can win a national championship.
A program that couldn't fill its stadium to even half of capacity last year is rushing to add seats and still won't be able to meet ticket demand.
A program that hasn't appeared in the preseason Top 25 since 2015 shows up in all four major polls, between Nos. 13-18, and is the highest-ranked in the Big Ten.
“I know there’s a lot of excitement; that’s not lost on us,” coach Rhonda Revelle said. “I mean, you can’t lie. We’re at practice, there’s construction going on, and they’re trying to accommodate more fans, so it’s not like it’s invisible to us.”
The Cornhuskers bring back all the top players from the 36-22 team that made an NCAA regional for a second straight year. But make no mistake: their sudden popularity is attributable to Bahl.
The two-time All-America pitcher shocked the college softball world last June when, a week after she led Oklahoma to a third straight national championship and was named Most Outstanding Player in the Women’s College World Series, she announced she would transfer to her home-state school.
Bahl grew up in the Omaha suburb of Papillion and strongly considered going to Nebraska out of high school before picking the powerhouse Sooners. She went 44-2, won two national titles and was Big 12 pitcher of the year and a first-team All-American each year.
She cited homesickness and a desire to help grow the sport in the state of Nebraska when she announced her decision to leave OU after two years.
Bahl demurred when asked how she handles being in the spotlight in Lincoln.
“I don’t think I’ve ever looked at it that way,” she said. "It’s just our team, and we show up and we go to work every day, and that’s just how it is.”
The evidence suggests otherwise.
In the days following her transfer, Nebraska received requests for more than 2,000 new season tickets. The Huskers, who averaged 1,000 fans per game at 2,530-seat Bowlin Stadium last season, immediately made plans to get capacity over 3,000 before the March 1 home opener.
“I think it makes us excited because it just shows how our game is growing, and it’s an awesome feeling to just know that the people of Nebraska are excited to come and watch softball," Bahl said. “And we’re all working really hard to try to make it a fun show to watch.”
Bahl has had no difficulty fitting in. There are six other native Nebraskans on the roster, she was a club teammate with standout shortstop Billie Andrews and knows other players from summer ball.
“She’s a great person off the field, and I think that just bleeds into who she is on the field,” Andrews said. “And we know when we go out there and play, we’ve got her back and she’s got ours. She’s a great addition to this team.”
The Huskers open at a tournament in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico, on Thursday against Washington, which is ranked as high as No. 7. The pitching matchup could pit Bahl against a fellow Nebraskan in Ruby Meylan, a preseason second-team All-American from Omaha.
The Huskers will play another nationally ranked team in Duke on Friday, and they have nonconference games later this month against Top 25 opponents and future Big Ten members UCLA and Oregon.
It's a schedule designed to prepare the Huskers for conference play and beyond.
“Our goal," Bahl said, “is to be the last team standing."