Emily Lockman loves softball. She loves nearly everything about it. But one three-letter word can turn that love into a different kind of passion.
Lockman has been one of the top pitchers at every level of her softball career. A national champion at age 14. The California Gatorade Player of the Year at 18. A first-team NCAA all-region selection at 19. Her success helped her earn a scholarship to Nebraska, but it hasn't helped her avoid that three-letter word that has followed her throughout her career, attempting to diminish her talent and skills.
Even as she was being recruited by some of the nation’s top programs, Lockman heard that word. College coaches – some of the brightest minds in the game – would praise Lockman’s talent, then bemoan the fact that she wasn’t taller, as if her size was a physical limitation that couldn’t be overcome.
"I was always the 'little girl' on the mound," the 5-foot-4 Lockman said. "Everyone always said how good I was, but they always added I was 'too small' to be a pitcher. It was a little rough having to hear that from all of the college coaches.”
The size factor put a bit of a chip on Lockman’s shoulders, adding fuel to a fire that already burned bright with self-determination. Although she may be small in stature, Lockman has a big presence in the circle, and that’s what caught the attention of Nebraska Head Coach Rhonda Revelle.
“Coach Revelle really made it a point to be known that it was not about my size, it was about so much more than that,” Lockman said.
Lockman’s size was never a concern for Revelle, nor was it even a consideration until Lockman expressed frustration about the issue.
“Emily was maybe told that (she was too small) because she was very well known as a 12-and-under pitcher, and she was probably the same size then as she is now,” Revelle said. “It’s similar to what I went through where you physically mature earlier than everyone else and then watch them shoot right past you. But that’s the cool thing about softball. At every position you have seen people of all shapes and sizes that have been really good.”
Make no mistake about it, Lockman has always been very good. That’s why she was one of the top pitching recruits in her class, despite potential concerns about her height. But Revelle saw a pitcher who always stood tall in the circle.
“First and foremost, she believes in herself and has high confidence. I think that’s imperative for a pitcher to have,” Revelle said. “The second thing is that she wants the ball. She doesn’t back away from anyone. Those are two really important mental attributes.
“Third, she is able to move the ball around the zone and understands the game and how to attack hitters. When a pitcher has a good eye for how to get hitters out, it will really help their development when they get into college and really start to hone their craft.”
Lockman Large in Competitiveness
While Lockman may use her size as a motivating factor, there’s no denying her talent. Lockman possesses good control, movement and an ability to stretch the strike zone, but her mentality is arguably her greatest strength. She “owns” the circle according to Revelle and is a poised competitor, with competitor being the key word.
Lockman wants to win. At everything. At all times. She always has.
"My earliest memory of playing softball was when my coach told me to be the first outfielder to my spot, and I wanted to win and be the first one so badly, that I fell and cut open my knee,” she said. “I remember it bleeding so badly and they didn't have band-aids or water, and I just cried....not because it hurt, but because I didn't win.”
Lockman has done a lot of winning throughout her softball career. She won 74 games in high school, posting a 74-19 record with a 0.89 ERA. As California’s top player as a senior, Lockman went 31-2 with a 0.35 ERA, and she posted more shutouts (21) than walks (11) while leading Norco High School to a No. 1 national ranking.
She continued to win in her freshman season at Nebraska last spring, when she went 15-6 with a 1.78 ERA. She ranked second in the Big Ten in ERA and was fourth among all freshmen nationally. For her efforts, Lockman was one of only two freshmen pitchers nationally to be a first-team all-region honoree, and she was the first Husker freshman hurler to ever earn that distinction.
Lockman tossed a no-hitter against Utah State in the second weekend of her Husker career, throwing the earliest no-hitter in school history. The next weekend, she allowed only one earned run in a complete-game effort against a top-10 Cal squad. The following weekend, Lockman shut out top-ranked Oklahoma on the Sooners’ home dirt, handing OU one of its four losses during its national championship season.
While she had several memorable performances during the regular season, Lockman’s competitiveness really shined during the NCAA Tournament. After not pitching in the first five games of the postseason, Lockman was called on to start Nebraska’s winner-take-all Game Three NCAA Super Regional matchup at No. 3 Oregon. With a berth to the Women’s College World Series on the line, Lockman ran into tough luck early, as two bang-bang calls went against her, allowing the Ducks to score twice in the first inning. Ever the competitor, Lockman rebounded and shut Oregon out over the final six innings to win her postseason debut and punch the Huskers’ ticket to Oklahoma City.
Getting Nebraska to the Women’s College World Series was a dream come true for Lockman. At the WCWS, Lockman impressed fans, opponents and a national television audience with her poise and competitiveness, coming into tough situations in both of Nebraska’s games and settling her team down.
Having a calming influence on the game while injecting her teammates with confidence is one of Lockman’s strengths. It’s something she saw in a pair of fellow California pitchers – Cal’s Jolene Henderson and Florida’s Stacey Nelson – who pitched their teams to the Women’s College World Series while Lockman was in high school. Lockman identified with the competitiveness of those two elite pitchers and hoped to have the same impact at Nebraska that they had at their respective schools, with Henderson leading the Golden Bears to Oklahoma City twice and Nelson taking the Gators to the Women’s College World Series two times.
“Both of them had this fire in them and competed every pitch,” Lockman said of Henderson and Nelson. “You knew that they were on the field, and their team wasn’t the same without them. Both were also among the winningest pitchers in softball history.
“I want to be compared to them because that would mean that I would be remembered with the all-time softball greats.”
All in the Family
Lockman still has work to do to reach her high standards, but her lofty goals are attainable thanks to a solid foundation, made possible by her family’s love, knowledge and support.
“I started playing softball when I was about five, and I started because both my parents played,” Lockman said. “The opportunities I have now would be nothing without my family because they gave me everything and raised me so well.”
Lockman comes from a softball family. Her mother Kelly was a softball player and Emily’s younger sister, Abby, is a sophomore at Norco High School. Don Lockman, Emily’s father, is a coach in the Corona Angels organization, one of the top travel ball teams in the country. Emily says she learned so much from her father, and he deserves credit for where she is today.
"I think that my most influential person would have to be my dad,” she said. “He taught me everything I know, and he taught me how to be a fighter and compete. He showed me how to love the game and that opened so many doors for me.”
Lockman sprinted right through those open doors, bursting onto the scene as a freshman in 2013. As magical as the 2013 season was for Lockman and Nebraska, she believes the Huskers can accomplish even more in 2014.
“I think that my goal for us this year would have to be getting back to the Women’s College World Series and making a run for the money,” she said. “We have such a strong team this year, and the experience that most of us got from last year will help motivate us for this year.”
While Lockman has big dreams for the Big Red in 2014, she also has grand plans for her life beyond the softball diamond. Coming from a supportive, softball family, it should come as no surprise that Lockman wants to carry on the family tradition, perhaps as a coach.
“My ideal plan for after college would be to make a difference,” she said. “I am going to find a job either through business or psychology where I am going to make a difference every day. That’s what drives me. I also want to be able to coach and share all of my experiences and knowledge with younger girls so they can learn from me.”
Three Things You Didn’t Know About Emily
1) She wanted to be President of the United States when she was a little girl.
2) Coming from California, she really likes that Nebraska has “slowed her down.”
3) Her first concert was a Britney Spears concert.