Going to the Women’s College World Series is starting to be old hat for University of Georgia softball coach, Lu Harris-Champer, who has been guiding her team through the rough Southeastern Conference (SEC) since 2000.
Georgia advanced to the Women’s College World Series last season thanks to a solo home run by Cortni Emmanuel as she lined a lead-off homer over the right-field fence to give them a 2-1 win over conference rival Tennessee Lady Volunteers’ in eight innings to send the Bulldogs to the Series.
Harris-Champer has established her softball program as a top 10 program in the nation. She has led the Lady Bulldogs to the World Series in 2018, 2016, 2010 and 2009. She has been named SEC Coach of the Year three times, 2003, 2005 and in 2018.
Harris-Champer’s personal excellence has transformed the Lady Bulldogs into 17-straight NCAA appearances, two SEC championships, one SEC Tournament Championship, 10 NCAA Super Regional appearances, and her team has been to the Women’s College World Series two out of the last three years.
“Last year’s team was incredibly cohesive,” Harris-Champer said. “They had their mindset made up that they were intended to be successful and they worked hard for it.”
Her overall record is 860-321 going into her 19th season. What is amazing for Harris-Champer is that her team was picked to finish ninth in the conference last year and ended up in second place with a 48-13 overall record and a 16-8 conference record.
“We don’t spend a lot of time focusing on our opponent,” UGA coach Harris-Champer said. “We just focus on what we’re doing and do the best to control what we do.”
Harris-Champer was born in Roswell and stayed here until she was 6 months old. She moved to San Diego, California, as a kid and played softball at Loyola High School. She went on to play softball at Western Illinois University where she graduated in 1989 and was a graduate assistant after graduation.
Harris-Champer decided to coach after her undergrad when she decided to go back to school and get her master’s. She volunteered while she was working on her master’s and loved it. She feels blessed to have the opportunity to work with some of the best minds in softball.
Harris-Champer coached Nicholls State in 1996-’97 to a pair of NCAA tournament berths. In 1997, she led the Orlando Wahoos to a regular season and tournament titles while receiving honors as the Woman’s Pro Fastpitch League Coach of the Year. In 1999-2000 she led the University of Southern Mississippi to the Women’s College World Series before being hired at the University of Georgia in 2001 by the then-athletic director, Vince Dooley.
“As far as coaching in the pros,” Harris-Champer said, “it is the same as college, it’s just older. That was before Southern Mississippi, and some of my players were older than me at the time. It was a really fun experience.”
What Harris-Champer looks for in an athlete that wants to play at the Division I level is a young lady committed to academics and successful in the classroom.
“I look for an athlete that can put up good grades and test scores,” Harris-Champer said. “By doing that, it shows they have the potential to grow and learn on the softball field. As far as athletically, we look for speed and power.”
On the recruiting trail, Harris-Champer scouts nationwide looking for talent. She will go to several elite tournaments throughout the summer where teams nationwide will play in hopes of being recognized. That is the main focus of her recruiting. A lot of times people will call her with a tip about a prospect that can play for her.
Her father, Bill (BJ) Harris, still lives in Roswell — most mornings he can be found having breakfast at Whataburger between 4-4:30 a.m.
“My dad, BJ, was really solid on the fundamentals,” Harris-Champer said. “When you can do the fundamentals, you can have success. Just in the sense that that mindset was really, really great on teaching me a positive mindset — he (dad) would have me pitch with my eyes closed so that I could hit a location with my eyes closed. It was pretty awesome stuff, you know the power of the mind.”
Harris-Champer attributes being a coach to her dad, and mother, Mary Younie, as they both coached her in little kid recreation ball. Both of her parents pushed her and brought out the best in her as a player.
“Another thing my dad taught me was,” Harris-Champer said, “is that you’re going to get what you think you are going to get. Also, he taught me work habits. If you’re willing to work for what you want, then you will have a pretty good opportunity to be successful.”
As a head coach, Harris-Champer believes kids playing travel ball is great because during the season, her teams are playing and she and her coaches don’t have a chance to watch high school teams compete. With travel ball, she gets to see several of the best kids play on good teams from a two to three state surrounding area. Most of those teams end up going to the bigger national tournaments.
What Harris-Champer looks for when she is recruiting is kids that have played other sports. Harris-Champer feels like the kinesthetic movement, awareness and space around an athlete is a big deal when players are trying to grow their game. The ability to play other sports allows an athlete to learn how to move their body in different ways.
Harris-Champer also looks to see if a kid is tapped out in ability — if they’re not, how much better are they going to get? She often has to make decisions on a recruit, and wonder if they are not performing, if they are having a bad day or series?
“One of the things we look for is a mindset,” Harris-Champer said. “When you see an athlete — one of the big indicators is the way they deal with failure. We can be at games and see kids be successful or not be successful. We can see them continue throughout a game and how they continue to fight and support their teammates for their team to be successful. It’s in those times when we see a lot about student-athletes. The most important part for me is the mental outlook of an athlete.”
Harris-Champer thinks the most important makeup of an athlete is their resiliency to keep coming back after failure. She wants athletes that can do that and be a leader — a leader in the sense that an athlete lets their team know that when they get that opportunity again, they will be successful. It’s the way athletes respond and carry themselves and continue to fight that impresses her.
“I would tell kids that want to play at the SEC level,” Harris-Champer said, “academics have to be a top, top priority. The more successful a student is in the classroom, the more options they will have for college. After that, play on the elite softball teams so they have more of a chance to be seen.”
For an athlete that wants to coach softball, Harris-Champer gives the advice to study the mental game; work for the opportunity to coach under some coaches that they respect and admire; and spend some time volunteering and working their way up in the system.
“I’m excited about the start of this season,” Harris-Champer said. “I can’t wait to get out there and see what this team can create.”
Her team, University of Georgia, is off to a fast start this season going 25-5, as of this article. Georgia opened SEC play Friday as they take on Missouri at Missouri.
Family means a lot to Harris-Champer — she is still close to her father (BJ), and they talk on the phone every Wednesday morning, often from Whataburger. She doesn’t get a chance to get back to Roswell often to see her dad and other family members. Harris-Champer is married to Jerry Champer, the associate head coach for the Georgia swimming and diving team. They have three children: twins Jenna and Emma, and Mya.