AMHERST, Mass. – Elaine Sortino, longtime head coach of the UMass Amherst softball team and one of the winningest coaches in NCAA softball history, died Aug. 18 at the age of 64 following a long battle with cancer.
At the conclusion of the 2013 season Sortino had compiled a 1,185-508-6 record over her 34-year career, ranking her seventh all-time among Division I coaches and third among those still active.
“We have lost a very special and amazing person in Elaine,” said director of athletics John McCutcheon. “We loved her tremendously. She was a true gift. It’s hard to envision UMass without her and there is no way we can express the loss that we feel.”
“She impacted so many people during her life and was a true inspiration who left an indelible mark on us all. Not only has the University of Massachusetts lost one of its brightest stars, but so too has the entire softball world.”
A native of Yonkers, N.Y., and a resident of Hadley, Sortino became head coach of the Minutewomen in 1980 and made an immediate impact, leading the team to a 23-3 record. In the decades following, she guided the team to 21 NCAA Tournament appearances, three trips to the Women’s College World Series, 23 Atlantic 10 regular-season titles, 23 A-10 tournament championships, and nine undefeated A-10 campaigns. During the 20 consecutive seasons from 1991 to 2010, Sortino’s Minutewomen teams all recorded 30 or more wins.
In honor of her achievements, Sortino was inducted into the National Fastpitch Coaches Association Hall of Fame in 2004.
During her tenure at UMass, Sortino-coached student athletes have included a Honda Sports Award winner as best female collegiate softball player in the nation, an Olympic gold medalist, three United States and Canadian National Team members, 21 All-America selections, 15 A-10 Players of the Year, 18 A-10 Pitchers of the Year, nine A-10 Rookies of the Year and 133 all-conference selections.
She was regarded as one of the most gifted pitching mentors in the game, and Danielle Henderson (1996-99), Brandice Balschmiter (2006-09) and Sara Plourde (2009-12) all ended their UMass careers among the top 15 all-time in various NCAA career records, including games started, complete games, innings pitched, victories, strikeouts and shutouts.
Dozens of her former players have gone on to coaching careers, with five former assistants and players currently holding NCAA head coaching positions.
Sortino’s legacy will continue to have a presence on campus long after her passing, thanks to her efforts as the driving force behind the more than $350,000 raised for the current softball facility, which was renamed Sortino Field in September 2012.
Prior to the 2000 season, the softball program moved from Totman Field to the southwest corner of campus. The complex was renovated to its current size with a seating capacity of 1,000 before the 2008 campaign. A new outfield wall was installed in 2011 and three outdoor batting cages were completed in April 2012. It also features six pitching mounds across two bullpens and heated dugouts with restrooms.
Sortino Field played host to five NCAA Regionals from 2006-10 and five A-10 Tournaments, and has proven to be welcome confines for the Minutewomen, who have posted a 220-30-1 (.896) mark at home since that season.
In addition to her legendary career at the helm of the softball team, Sortino also had a successful run as UMass' volleyball coach, posting a 218-134-1 record from 1979-1986. She also served as associate athletics director and senior woman administrator with direct supervision of six men's and women's sport programs, and oversaw student-athlete services, sports medicine, strength and conditioning, athletic health enhancement and the life skills program.
Sortino served as tournament manager for the 1995 NCAA women's volleyball championship and was a key member of the NCAA Certification Committee in 1995-1996. She also served on the NCAA Softball Committee in 2003 and 2004 and has been an active voting member of the ESPN.com/USA Softball Top 25 Poll.
A 1971 graduate of Oneonta State (N.Y.) University, Sortino earned her master's degree from the University of Bridgeport in 1973. She was inducted into the Oneonta State Athletic Hall of Fame in 1999.
She leaves her mother, Mary Sortino of Yonkers, N.Y., brother Peter and his wife Leslie of St. Louis, and sister Paula Celona of Yonkers, two nephews and a niece.
Calling hours will be held on Thursday, Aug. 22 from 4-8 p.m. at Douglass Funeral Home at 87 North Pleasant St. in Amherst. The funeral will be held Friday, Aug. 23 at 10 a.m. at St. Brigid’s Church, 122 North Pleasant St.
Memorial donations can be made to the Elaine Sortino Softball Enhancement Fund c/o UMass Athletic Department Development Office, 308 Mullins Center, University of Massachusetts Amherst, 01003.