Carolina Cardinals Dynasty: Their road to a three-peat

Oct. 18, 2018, 11:41 a.m. (ET)

Saturday, July 21, 2018 is a day that Carolina Cardinals – Chandler Head Coach Rick McHone will carry with him.  While the team compiled a perfect 7-0 record en route to the 2018 USA Softball Girls’ 18-Under Class A Fast Pitch National Championship, a feat which is notable all on it’s own, it also marked the day that the team claimed the program’s third-consecutive 18-Under title, becoming one of a handful of teams to earn a coveted three-peat.  


In an ever-changing culture in the sport of softball in which teams may focus on showcase tournaments, Championship Play is what drives the Carolina Cardinals.  “We teach the kids to approach every game as an elimination game,” said McHone, and that approach to the game has helped the program place hundreds of athletes at various colleges to continue their careers.


Founded in 1989 by Ray Chandler, the Carolina Cardinals have emerged as one of the premier girls fast pitch organizations in the country.  Chandler’s vision for his athletes was simple: 


"The team foundation is centered around knowing and believing in the importance of the physical, mental and spiritual pieces of the game. These young ladies know that attitude and effort can make the difference on the field and off!  The Carolina Cardinals team knows that striving to be a better ball player is really about striving to be a better person.  These girls believe that life’s most valuable lessons are found on every corner of the field. They know that the time spent on the DIAMOND will be what makes them SHINE in life."



This philosophy is what drew in McHone to the Cardinals program. “His [Ray] vision for the kids and coaching philosophies aligned with ours,” he recalls.


For McHone, it all began in 1997 when he first got into coaching youth fast pitch softball, having made the transition from competitive slow pitch softball for many years.  Joining the Cardinals program in 2003 as the first 8-Under team within the organization, McHone knew it was a great fit.


A longtime competitor in the USA Softball JO program, the Cardinals organization has attended USA Softball National Championships for many years.  Their first 18-Under Class A National title came in 2006 under the guidance of Chandler, fueling an 18-Under dynasty that has now amassed five National Championships. 


Sadly, Chandler passed away in 2010 and with his passing and encouragement from Ray’s wife Sharyn, McHone found himself as the next leader of the Carolina Cardinals organization.  Under McHone’s leadership, the team continues to operate under the vision and legacy of their founder.


Their journey to the three-peat started in 2016 in Bloomington, Ind., where the team overcame adversity en route to the Championship title. After going undefeated through bracket play to land in the Championship Game, a loss to Ohio Lasers forced the “if-necessary” game, where the Cardinals edged out their opponents in a 2-1 win.


Deciding they wanted to defend their title, the team set their sights on Salem, Ore. for the 2017 National Championships.  The team went undefeated and walked away as back-to-back champs with a dominating 13-5 win over All American Mizuno for the title.


“After we left Oregon, the kids were already talking about a three-peat,” mused McHone.


Traveling to Salem, Va. for the 2018 edition of the National Championship, the Cardinals once again went undefeated and took home the trophy after a 7-0, shutout win over OFC Heat Orange.


“I’m still amazed at how much these kids, several of them part of the three Championship teams, pulled together to put such an amazing run together over what seemed to be at times bigger and stronger teams,” said McHone.


While claiming three-straight National Championships is an achievement the team and coaching staff is proud to have accomplished, it’s the messaging off the field that McHone and the Cardinals organization want their athletes to take away.


“We teach our young ladies that you do not have to be greatly gifted to have a great attitude and give your best effort 100% of the time. Those attributes should be a part of your daily routine.”


With a 20-player roster, McHone is often asked how they make it work in a culture in which the name on the back of the jersey can sometimes take precedence over the team.


“We teach our kids to work together collectively for a common goal,” McHone said.  


“Much like in life, you can get more accomplished if you work together rather than pulling against each other,” he continued.  “Our players pull for each other to succeed and in the end, should we not all be working for a common goal on and off the field?”


That mentality resonated with the athletes in the program.


“I think nowadays people switch teams if they don’t get the opportunity to play as much as they would like,” said former Carolina Cardinals team member and current South Carolina Volunteer Assistant Coach Taylor Wike. “When you play for the Cardinals it’s different.  You understand that it is just an honor to get to wear that jersey with ‘Cardinals’ on the front and a ribbon with Ray Chandler’s name on the sleeve.”


In the end, the Cardinals organization is proud of the role they have played in the lives of the athletes who have participated in their programs.  


“As Ray used to tell me ‘Touch as many lives as you can’,” said McHone.  Those seven words construct a powerful message that to this day has stuck with not only the Carolina Cardinals organization, but for McHone personally. As the many teachers, business owners, coaches, doctors and lawyers who once put on a Cardinals jersey can attest, their time spent on the DIAMOND is what helped them to SHINE in life. 


“Although I learned so much on the field as a Cardinal there was so much more off the field that shaped me into who I am today,” Wike added.  “I learned what it meant to love your teammates, to truly want what is best for each and every girl around you, and I've carried that with me throughout my career into my coaching career. I learned that although winning is important it isn't everything. The relationships you make with your team is really what it's about.”



“Playing with the Cardinals impacted my life forever,” she continued. “Without the Cardinals I know I would not be where I am today and I would not be the person I am.  I, along with so many other girls who played for the Cardinals, are forever in debt to them.”