They say that to be the best, you have to beat the Best.
For 19 years, almost as long as the UCF Knights Softball program itself has existed, the single-season RBI record has stayed with one UCF Athletics Hall-of-Famer Stephanie Best. She set it as a sophomore, back during the days when college softball had 63 regular season games. As it turned out, it would take another sophomore to break the record, except she did it in 58 games.
C/3B Jada Cody said in a letter to UCF fans on d1softball.com that she wanted to attend a college far from her home of Murietta, California, yet also felt at home. She found that at UCF.
Now, with her place in the record books cemented, that home is about to play host to is first NCAA Tournament Regional in its history.
“It’s definitely a dream,” Cody said on Selection Sunday. “I was looking forward to this, but without my teammates, I couldn’t have done that. Without them being on base and without them contributing to me, I don’t think I would have been able to beat the record.”
Part of Cody’s teammates’ contribution to her success traces further back before this season began. During the earlier days of the COVID-19 pandemic, Best said Cody and pitcher Gianna Mancha came to train together at her ProSwings facility in Longwood. It was there where Best and Cody first met.
“There were no excuses, even for them, during COVID,” Best said. “They wanted to get the work in. They wanted to get better.”
During their time training together at ProSwings, Mancha would hit ground balls to Cody to hone her defensive skillset while Cody served as Mancha’s catcher as she honed her pitching, Best said.
“They were each other’s partner when it came to really help and hold each other accountable, make each other better,” Best said.
Cody still serves as Mancha’s personal catcher when she makes starts for the Knights today. The pitcher witnessed Cody’s record-surpassing home run from the dugout.
“It was awesome,” Mancha said. “I started crying a little bit during the game when I knew. Just, how she’s grown since her freshman year, I mean, it’s been amazing, and having her behind the plate, and up at the plate too, is just awesome.”
Best said Cody and Mancha returned to ProSwings for training last summer, sometimes bringing 2B Justine Molina along as well. This time, however, Cody pursued and trained with former Florida State captain Ellie Cooper, who Best called “one of the highest-level hitting instructors in the country.”
While one of Best’s records has fallen, she still holds plenty of places in the UCF Softball record book, including the program’s highest-career batting average. Yet, Best said that comparing her 2003 sophomore self to Cody today, Cody is better. Though, the two are not without parallels.
“It doesn’t matter how good we’re doing,” Best said. “We’re chasing excellence and we want to get better and better and better. So, if anything, it’s just she’s willing to put in the extra work and that’s what it takes if you want to be great.”
Best, alongside other UCF Softball alumnae, will be in attendance for UCF’s first game as a regional host against Villanova, slated for 6 p.m. on Friday.
“I’m excited to give back to what they started, the legacy that they started to build up this program,” Cody said after Wednesday’s practice. “I’m excited that they’ll see us play out here in regionals.”
When Best was first recruited to the program back in 2000, there was not yet a softball stadium, she said. She was simply taken to the top of the UCF Basketball arena, which would later become The Venue, and was shown the patch of woods where the stadium would be built. That stadium no longer exists, the ground used for Tower 2 of Knights Plaza.
In that old stadium, Best would perform feats and set records that still hold today. Even when the program moved to The Plex in 2006, the records held. Now, Best will return to campus to see another chapter of UCF Softball history be written, not only to see the Knights host a regional but to also watch a player that did what nearly 20 years’ worth of players could not—best her.
Though, now that Cody has bested Best, she said she can “play a little free” as she heads into this weekend’s regional.
“I’m just living in the moment, not making any play bigger than it has to be any pitch,” Cody said.