After their contributions to a huge turnaround for the Razorback softball team this year, the Hogs’ four seniors will soon bid farewell to a program they saw change dramatically.
Senior infielder Autumn Buczek remembers the old days of no personality or purpose, she said.
“When I came in my freshman year, it didn’t feel like the program had any sort of identity,” Buczek said. “We didn’t have anything specific that we stood for or played for other than just trying to win.”
Four years ago, under former coach Mike Larabee, the Hogs went 16-37 overall and 1-23 in Southeastern Conference play.
Senior outfielder Tori Cooper thought the team could rebound under proper coaching, she said.
“I knew that it was only a matter of time,” Cooper said. “Talent has never been an issue with our team, it’s just been the dynamic and learning how to use our talents together.”
The following year, Larabee resigned, and Courtney Deifel took over the program.
“When coach Deifel came in, she started to change the culture and the way we thought,” Buczek said. “I think that was one of the biggest turning points.”
After Deifel’s second year as coach, the team had a winning season for the first time in four years. This season, the Razorbacks have continued the winning trend they set last year, sitting at a 34-11 record and a .500 SEC record.
One of senior outfielder Loren Krzysko’s happiest moments from her collegiate years has been seeing the good and bad times, she said.
“I am so excited, lucky and blessed to be a part of a team that is making a huge turnaround for the program,” Krzysko said. “It started the first year coach Deifel has been here, and this is just a short tad bit of what is to come from this program as the culture continues to grow and become a norm.”
Senior infielder A.J. Belans, who transfered to the UofA after two years at Florida International University, can’t believe how much determination the program has built up this year, she said.
“None of us are willing to lay down and accept mediocrity,” Belans said. “We will fight until the very last pitch, swing and out of our season. The Arkansas Razorbacks are on a mission and no one can stand in our way.”
The pride of being Razorbacks will stay with them for the rest of their lives.
Krzysko, who is from Barrington, Illinois, thanks the state of Arkansas for being behind her and her team, she said.
“It’s extremely incredible to have the whole state behind you while you compete against the best players in the nation,” Krzysko said. “Along the ride, I have made the absolute best friends, and I cannot believe the places this sport has taken me and the lessons it has taught me.”
Even though she came in with zero ties, she enjoyed Arkansas in both academics and athletics, Cooper said.
“Academically, I have been able to receive a quality education,” Cooper said. “Athletically, I have been able to compete at a level that most only dream of. It was the dream of mine to play in the SEC.”
Just like her teammate, Belans said she also wanted to play in this conference.
“Playing in the SEC was a dream of mine when I was younger, and having the opportunity to play here is indescribable,” Belans said. “There have been some lows but my team and coaches have been there through it all, and I’m beyond thankful for all of them.”
Throughout her years on the team, Buczek can’t believe how much she has grown and learned, she said.
“I’ve gotten to learn a lot from both succeeding and failing, and it’s made me a better person everyday,” Buczek said. “My teammates have been huge help in just surrounding me with friendship and laughter through the tough times.”
Deifel knows that the hard work that this class has done is responsible for its new identity, she said.
“This senior class has had a huge hand in making this program what it is,” Deifel said “[They] will continue to move forward and get better every day.”
Even after it’s all over, Cooper will never forget what it means to be a Razorback, she said.
“I have a lot of pride in being a Razorback, and that’s something that’s going to stay with me long after I wear the uniform for the last time,” Cooper said.
The Razorbacks will play the Ole Miss Rebels in the last home series of the season. First pitch is scheduled for 3 p.m. April 28, and the series will air on the SEC Network.