By Blake Zimmerman
Big 12 Campus Correspondent
OSU Softball Coach Rich Wieligman has been coaching softball for 14 years. When asked if he has ever seen a player choose a jersey number to pay homage to their favorite hockey player, he knew the answer immediately.
“Never,” he said. “Never.”
Jersey numbers often tell a player’s story.
The No. 87 that Cowgirl Softball player Tarah Ettinger wears tells an uncommon one.
Ettinger is from Nova Scotia, Canada. Hockey country. She lived there for nine years before moving to the United States, but nine years was plenty of time to fall in love with hockey. She loves the Pittsburgh Penguins, but maybe even more than that, she loves one of their players.
“I wear number 87 because of Sidney Crosby,” Ettinger said. “We were born in the same hospital. He was born on Aug. 7, 1987—8-7-87. That’s why his number is 87.”
There can’t be many softball players who look up to hockey players, but Ettinger said her reasons transcend sports.
“He is such a role model to me," said Ettinger. "He is known for his work ethic and being an all-around good person. I strive to be like him, and that’s why I wear 87.”
Crosby’s work ethic has paid off, and he is arguably the best player in the National Hockey League. Ettinger implemented a similar work ethic in the offseason, and it’s starting to show. She leads the Cowgirls with nine home runs and 81 total bases. Her .331 batting average is second on the team.
“I always try to work hard,” Ettinger said. “Then I can rely on that when the season starts. I know that I’ve put in the preparation, and that gives me confidence. Coach Wieligman worked with me a lot this year. Most of what he helped me with, clicked. It made a lot of sense, and that has really helped me this year.”
Wieligman said Ettinger is having a great season, but she brings a lot more than those batting numbers to the team.
“The thing I’ve noticed, is she’s always in a good mood,” Wieligman said. “When she comes to the field, she is always in the same type of mood—it’s consistent. That’s important to me. If you have a kid that comes to the field in different moods all the time, you never know what you will get. The best thing with Tarah is the consistency in her attitude and effort. She’s always ready to work hard.”
It is easy to see what Wieligman is talking about when speaking to Ettinger. She really enjoys playing softball, which she probably never could have guessed growing up.
"There aren’t many organized sports in Canada,” Ettinger said. “It was mainly soccer and hockey. I didn’t know what softball was until we moved to Illinois.”
At the time, OSU Assistant Coach Tom Gray was coaching softball at the University of Illinois-Chicago. Ettinger got to know Gray through her high school head coach, but was not interested in playing softball in a big city like Chicago. When Gray moved to Stillwater, the decision was easy.
“When he moved here, he asked me how I felt about Stillwater,” Ettinger said. “I love a small-town feel. Everyone here was so nice, that’s what persuaded me. You can walk into Wal-Mart and people will ask you how you are. In Chicago, people would look at you like you were crazy.”
Being a hockey fan in Oklahoma, one would think people look at Ettinger like she is crazy, but she has found someone to watch it with her.
“My boyfriend is getting used to it,” Ettinger said. “He was very reluctant at first, but he is starting to watch it with me now. We just go to Buffalo Wild Wings and he will watch basketball and I’ll watch hockey.”
Sidney Crosby would be proud of that. If Ettinger continues to work this hard produce this high of a level, she could become as good at softball as Crosby is at hockey. But, she would tell you that’s impossible.
“I’m sorry, but he’s, like, the greatest hockey player ever,” Ettinger said. “Sidney is just my man. I love him.”