“Follow the yellow brick road.”
This well-known line from the classic movie The Wizard of Oz speaks to the importance of sticking to the path until one reaches his or her destination, no many how many obstacles one faces along the way.
Danica Bishop has seen The Wizard of Oz more times than she can remember, as she says the classic is her all-time favorite film. In some ways, Bishop’s path to Nebraska was not unlike Dorothy’s journey to Oz. There were no witches or flying monkeys along Bishop’s “yellow brick road”, but there was friendship, challenges and even a scary moment or two.
Friendship started Bishop on the road to becoming a Husker. She picked up softball when she was seven because her best friend wanted her to be on her team. One year later, Bishop began pitching for the first time. Now a dozen years later, Bishop enters her sophomore season as one of three returning pitchers on a Husker staff that ranked 15th nationally in ERA last season.
Going from someone who began playing the sport as a favor to a friend to a member of one of the nation’s top pitching staffs has been quite the journey for Bishop. But much like Dorothy, Bishop did not have to go the journey alone, getting all the brains, courage and heart she needed from her family and friends back home in Irvine, Calif.
“My mom and dad always stuck by me,” Bishop said of her parents Robert and Susan. “They took me to every game, every lesson and out-of-state tournaments.”
Her father, in particular, was a common companion along her road to Lincoln.
“My dad was my coach up until I was 12,” she said. “He coached my rec ball teams to championships. He was always the one to teach me lessons about never giving up and working hard to get what you want. He is my biggest influence when it comes to softball.”
With her family along for the ride, softball quickly turned serious for Bishop and it was full-speed ahead on her yellow brick road.
“I realized softball was more than just a game when I started taking pitching and hitting lessons twice a week and started making sacrifices for the sport,” Bishop said. “Instead of going and playing with my friends on the weekends, I would be playing softball. That’s when I realized that if I’m going to sacrifice and work so hard for this sport, I want it to pay off in the end.”
The journey ultimately did pay off when she accepted a scholarship offer from Nebraska in the fall of 2011, but the road to accepting that offer wasn’t always smooth.
A Bump Along the Road
Bishop started receiving recruiting interest as a high school freshman. Attending invitation-only events like the Allister OnDeck Arizona Jamboree in 2010 cemented her status as a top softball prospect.
After receiving interest from several schools, Bishop hit a bump along the road when she injured her knee and required surgery. The surgery not only threatened to block Bishop’s path to a college scholarship, but it also nearly diminished her love for the game.
“I had to have knee surgery at the beginning of my junior year, so recruiting really slowed down for me, especially when I was recovering,” she said. “It was tough to come back from an injury like that. It was a real test of my love for softball. It closed a lot of doors during my recruitment process. I couldn’t play at showcases and schools didn’t have time to wait for me to recover. I had to work very hard to get back to where I was before surgery. It was hard not to give in and say ‘this is too hard.’
Following her recovery, Bishop entered her senior year as an uncommitted player with few offers. She knew she would perform well in her final prep season, but the chance to prove she was healthy wouldn’t come until the spring. While hundreds of other student-athletes signed National Letters of Intent to play collegiate softball, Bishop was still trying to figure out where her road would take her. Then, Nebraska came calling.
“The coaches contacted me and asked if I was interested in Nebraska,” Bishop said. “I had never really thought about going that far away from home, and I had never realized what a great school Nebraska is. After meeting the coaches and talking to them it sounded like an amazing opportunity.
“I went on my official visit to Nebraska in December of my senior year. I committed fast because it was such a great and welcoming experience. I knew right away Nebraska was the right fit for me.”
Bishop went on to win 11 games and strike out 97 while leading Woodbridge High School to the CIF playoffs in her senior season. Following the season, she was selected to participate in the Orange County Coaches all-star game. Bishop headed to Lincoln that fall knowing that although her hard work had paid off and she had been rewarded with a scholarship, the work had only just begun.
Unlike Her Favorite Movie, Bishop Isn’t Dreaming
Bishop’s first year on the Nebraska campus seemed like a dream. It began with fulfilling her lifelong quest of earning a collegiate scholarship. It continued with her contributing to one of the nation’s top pitching staffs. And it ended with her meeting a childhood idol along the Huskers’ journey to the Women’s College World Series.
Bishop had learned the value of hard work throughout her softball career, especially while rehabbing her knee following surgery. That work ethic would again be tested during her freshman season at Nebraska, when Associate Head Coach and Pitching Coach Lori Sippel challenged Bishop to look at her craft in new ways and lay the foundation to take her game to another level.
“Even though she maybe didn’t get the experience she was hoping for, I think that last year was a productive year for Danica,” Sippel said. “She was a student of the game. I really think her pitching IQ increased. She’s been able to really become much more efficient not only in mechanics but in her mindset and mentality, too.”
Countless hours in the bullpen enabled Bishop to contribute immediately to Nebraska’s success in 2013. She appeared in five games while earning innings behind a pair of first-team all-region pitchers. She led the team with a 1.75 ERA and tied for the team lead with one save. Her highlight came in front of family and friends at the Big League Dreams Complex in Cathedral City, Calif., when she picked up a three-inning save against future Big Ten foe Maryland, allowing no runs and only one hit.
Bishop hopes to play an even bigger role this season for the Huskers, as the team looks for a second straight trip to Oklahoma City.
“Going to the Women’s College World Series last year is my best memory as a Husker,” Bishop said. “I see us working hard to protect what we achieved last year. I think that if we take one game at a time, we could do really big things this year. Our biggest goal is to make it back to the WCWS.”
Back-to-back trips to softball’s showcase event would continue what has seemed like a dream for Bishop. Not only did making it to the Women’s College World Series fulfill a dream, but Bishop got to meet a childhood idol along the way.
“I always wanted to be just like Jennie Finch,” Bishop said. “Last year, Jennie announced our Super Regional games against Oregon, and we got to talk to her for awhile. It was a very surreal moment.”
Bishop’s time at Nebraska may seem surreal, but unlike Dorothy, Bishop isn’t dreaming. Wide awake, Bishop is ready to reap the rewards for the challenges she overcame along her own yellow brick road.
Three Things You Didn’t Know About Danica
1) She’s addicted to game shows.
2) She’s afraid of heights and sharks.
3) Her favorite movie of all-time is The Wizard of Oz