The Perfect Place To Play
Susan Waters Will Become The First Mean Green Softball Player To Be Inducted Into the Hall of Fame
DENTON - When Susan Waters was growing up in Oklahoma, her family would make trips to the Dallas-Fort Worth area for summer softball games. They would drive through Denton and past Fouts Field on I-35, and Susan's father Dan would always comment that it would be just perfect if UNT had a softball program.
"It would be the perfect place to play," Susan would recall her father saying.
Little did the family know that North Texas would become that perfect place for Susan to attend college and play softball.
From 2004-07, Susan hit home run after home run for the Mean Green, becoming the program's most prolific hitter. She set the single-season home run in 2006, which still stands, and will be inducted into the North Texas Athletics Hall of Fame on Saturday, April 8, in the HUB Club at Apogee Stadium.
Susan will become the first Mean Green softball player to be inducted into the hall of fame.
"I'm excited and very honored," said Susan about getting inducted. "It was exciting to come in as the program was just getting started. I'm very honored to be blessed with the ability that I had and getting to represent the program again."
The timing worked out just right for the Waters family. North Texas announced it would field a Division I softball program in May of 2002 for the first time in 16 years. The team would assemble in the fall of 2003 and begin play in the spring of 2004.
Susan was a freshman on that inaugural team. With her help, the new era of Mean Green softball started with a big swing of the bat. In the Mean Green's opening game against No. 18 Texas A&M at College Station, Susan tied the game, 1-1, with a solo home run. North Texas lost, 6-1, and Susan's was the only hit of the game for the Mean Green, but it foreshadowed the beginning of a superb career.
"Being a freshman, I remember the adrenaline skyrocketing and being super nervous for that first game, Susan said. "I had never played that high level of competition before. I can still feel the hit. I remember not believing the ball went over the fence."
Susan has her name imprinted all over the North Texas records book, but she will always have the distinction of posting the team's first hit, home run, run scored and RBI.
"If first hits are any indicator, we should have known on Feb 4, 2004, that Susan's career would be historic," said TJ Hubbard, who was an assistant coach for North Texas from 2004-07 and the head coach from 2008-2013.
"Her skill set, work ethic and competitiveness were just a few of her strengths. She had the ability to change the game with one swing or even two."
Susan also became the first Mean Green player to hit two home runs in a single game, which she accomplished a month and half into her career. She posted multiple home runs in a single game eight times, which is a school record.
The fact that North Texas was a new program was what initially drew Susan to Denton. She wanted to play Division I ball, but she always wanted to play right away, which might have been difficult on an established team.
"It was more important to me to go in and contribute right away," Susan said. "I thought I could contribute right away as a freshman at North Texas."
Susan started all but one game her freshman year at third base in 2004. She led the team in home runs (9) and slugging percentage. She posted a .232 batting average and did not lead the team in any of the other offensive categories, but her career was just getting started.
In 2006, Susan recorded one of the best single-season performances in school history, posting 18 home runs, 14 doubles and 53 RBI. The 18 home runs and 53 RBI still stand as single-season school records, while the 14 doubles now ranks third. She finished the season tied for 18th nationally in home runs per game.
She batted .312 that season and led her team in on-base percentage, slugging percentage, runs scored and triples, and was recognized with first-team all-conference honors.
Susan capped her career with a stellar senior season. She hit 17 home runs and knocked in 41 RBI and was named first-team all-conference for a second straight year and had a personal-best .341 batting average and recorded a career low in strikeouts.
In the North Texas career records book, she still holds the mark for RBI (138), home runs (49), multiple-RBI games and total bases. She is listed in the top five in nine offensive categories. She has 10 more RBI than her next competitor and has hit 13 more home runs than the No. 2 position.
Susan's career was not without hardships. The new program struggled to get wins and had two head coaches in the opening four years. Susan was never a part of a winning season at North Texas. The program also played its home games at Denia Park, a city park a few miles from campus, while a new stadium was being built. Susan only played her senior season at Lovelace Stadium, the Mean Green's current home.
Yet, it is not the difficulties that Susan recalls when asked about memories from her playing career. One of her fondest memories is traveling to California her freshman year and driving down the coast.
Another one of her memories shows her competitive spirit. She distinctly remembers beating Louisiana-Lafayette, 6-5, her senior year in the Sun Belt Conference Tournament. ULL is a national power in softball and was always a thorn in the Mean Green's side. North Texas went 0-16 against the Ragin' Cajuns before that win. Susan knocked in the game-winning run with a two-RBI single.
"That's probably the game that sticks out the most," Susan said. "We were always striving to beat them."
There are always the bonds formed with teammates when playing a college sport. It was the same for Susan.
"I love the friendships I made," Susan said. "I still keep in touch with a lot of the girls. Danielle Rupp is still one of my best friends. I was in her wedding and she was in mine. My husband always says he is impressed with all the events we all still show up for: the weddings, babies, the alumni games. We all still support each other. Some of the best friends I made are from college."
Outside of softball, moving to Denton and going to UNT made a huge impact in Susan's life. She met her husband, Zach Highfill, at UNT, and they live in Denton with their two sons, Kai (4) and Maddox (2).
Zach played football for two years at North Texas and the couple met while in the college group at First Baptist Denton. They still attend church there and help with the college group as a way to give back.
"This is where I found my church home and grew my faith in the Lord," Susan said. "I just love Denton. I could stay here the rest of my life. This is exactly where I needed to be and where I'm still supposed to be still."
Her family including her parents, Dan and Mary, and four of her five sisters will travel down from Oklahoma this weekend for the induction luncheon. Her younger sister, Rebecca, will be there with her family. Rebecca was a four-year letterwinner at North Texas as well and played with Susan her freshman year. She was also lethal at the plate, hitting more grand slams at North Texas than Susan.
The Waters family always had a large contingent at Susan and Rebecca's games in Denton. Susan thinks her dad might be more excited about the big day than she is. He was always the person behind the scenes pushing his daughters to put in the extra work and effort.
"He put just as much time in as I did," Susan said. "A lot of my development had to do with him just pushing me to get out there and work. We had a tee out in the garage and a pitching machine. He would walk in and ask if we had our 200 balls on the tee. He was always pushing us to do that extra work and I think that is what helped me develop. He is just over the moon about this."
The home run in baseball and softball holds a special place in a fan's heart. A fan can recall being at that game when his or her favorite player hit one out of the park. Susan had that nice, easy swing that made the home run look effort less, that made you say "wow."
"I still consider it an honor to have coached Susan her entire college career and am privileged to have witnessed all 49 career home runs," Hubbard said. "It's easy to acknowledge her impact when looking through the record books, but some of Susan's greatest contributions to the softball program included her relentless dedication to academics, her unselfish leadership to her teammates and being a respected, admired ambassador for North Texas Athletics."